Tobacco21.ca: A Campaign to Reduce Teen Smoking

Feb 28, 2017

As the health risks associated with tobacco use have become increasingly evident, public health policies have responded appropriately with measures such as a ban on advertising tobacco. When the dangers of second-hand smoke became evident, smoking was banned in the workplace and in public buildings. These measures have been effective in reducing the prevalence of smoking down to 13%, but there are still 201,000 Canadian children between the ages of 19 and 25 who smoke.

Evidence has shown that nicotine is damaging to the developing brain, and exposure to nicotine before the brain is fully developed, at about 25 years of age, increases the risk of addiction, reduces impulse control, and may lead to mood disorders.

In a commentary article in the February 27th edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr. John Oyston, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesia, University of Toronto and an anesthesiologist at Rouge Valley Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, suggests that "Canada should pass federal legislation banning the supply of all tobacco and nicotine-containing products — excluding smoking cessation products — to anyone under the age of 21." Click here for the article.

Other jurisdictions that have raised the legal age for tobacco use have seen smoking rates in youth decrease. In Needham, Massachusetts, which raised the legal age to 21, smoking rates declined 47% in high schools. With a minimum legal age of 21, there are very few high school students who can buy tobacco and provide it to younger students.

"As physicians, we should spare no effort in preventing young people from starting to smoke. Eighteen or nineteen is too young to be allowed legal access to an addictive and carcinogenic product that can never be used safely," writes Dr. Oyston. "Raising the minimum legal age for access to tobacco is a scientifically proven, legally and politically quick, cheap and effective way to deprive the tobacco industry of recruiting a new generation of young people as their customers."

Dr. Oyston will be attending a National Forum aimed at renewing the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy in Ottawa in March to present Tobacco21 to the federal Health Minister and a wide range of health care experts. More details are available from www.tobacco21.ca.

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