Smokers know best: Study shows tobacco users want bold approaches to end smoking

A substantial number of Canadian smokers, vapers, and recent ex-smokers support innovative policies that could help drive further declines in overall smoking rates, according to a new report from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Project at the University of Waterloo.

In 2017, Canada’s Tobacco Strategy adopted a target of less than five per cent tobacco use by 2035. That would mean cutting by more than half the current rate of smoking among Canadians, which in 2020 was about one in eight Canadians who smoked cigarettes regularly.

Of six potential regulatory measures put forward in the ITC study, 64 per cent of smokers said they supported lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes to make them less addictive.

“Tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Canada. The study findings show that even smokers themselves are in favour of new ways of tackling the smoking epidemic,” said Geoffrey Fong, professor of psychology and public health sciences at Waterloo and Principal Investigator of the ITC Project.

Roughly half of the 3,560 smokers polled support a requirement for tobacco retailers to sell alternative nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, as well as banning promotional discounting of cigarettes. Thirty per cent of smokers support a total ban on cigarettes in 10 years if alternative nicotine products are available, with 33 per cent in favour of print warnings directly on the cigarettes themselves.

Support for these measures was generally higher among recent ex-smokers and among non-smokers who vape and or use heated tobacco products.

New Zealand, one of the ITC Project’s 31 countries, recently launched a bold new action plan to cut smoking to less than five per cent by 2025. Reducing nicotine in smoked tobacco products and reducing the number of tobacco retailers are among several ground-breaking measures that are currently being considered in New Zealand.

In partnership with leading researchers in New Zealand, the ITC Project will be evaluating New Zealand’s tobacco endgame approach. “To achieve the ambitious less than five per cent by 2035 goal, Canada will need to accelerate and strengthen their efforts to drive down smoking rates,” Fong said. “New Zealand’s proposed endgame policies may provide examples for Canada and other countries to consider.

About one in five Canadian deaths, or 18 per cent, are due to tobacco use, accounting for 51,700 deaths in 2019.

The report Support for Cigarette and Vaping Policies in Canada is available on the ITC Project website at https://itcproject.org/projects/itc-canada-survey-findings/.

The report was funded by Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program.

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