Today, our society is less inclined to light up. But new marketing tactics for youth may result in increased tobacco consumption.
Meg McCallum, formerly Director of Programming and District Services at the Canadian Cancer Society, Nova Scotia Division, says that, while youth tobacco use rates may be down from the last decade, she’s seeing a rise in the use of cigarillos, which look like little cigars.

13.8 per cent of high school students consider themselves smokers

“They’re often flavoured in bubblegum, chocolate, and mint. They’re attractive to youth,” says Meg. “And interestingly enough, when we ask the same age group if they’ve used cigarillos, we get a much higher consumption rate.”

According the Youth Smoking Survey conducted by the University of Waterloo on behalf of Health Canada, 13.8 per cent of high school students consider themselves smokers. When youth are asked about their use of cigarillos, the consumption rate rockets to 34.7 per cent.

Despite being flavoured and coloured, these slim cigarettes are not candy. Because they’re wrapped in tobacco leaves, a user actually gets more nicotine – and toxins – per cigarillo than with a cigarette. This is a message that the Canadian Cancer Society wants to emphasize to youth.

“The tobacco industry are very savvy marketers and youth are getting the message that cigarettes are harmful, and [the tobacco marketers] are bringing in products that are attractive to use, and they’re packaged individually,” says Meg. She adds that cigarillos are often not viewed as cigarettes, particularly because of their flavour, smell and packaging. If you see one in a backpack, you might even mistake it for a tube of lip gloss.

In 2010, Nova Scotia ameneded the Tobacco Act to add small cigars to existing tobacco regulations. It is now illegal to sell them individually. the amendment also bans the sale of tobacco products that contain flavours or certain additives.

Meg says public school curriculum includes tobacco control education, and it helps youth understand the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry and how the industry attempts to manipulate its users.

“Adolescents don’t like to be manipulated,” says Meg, “but they don’t exactly recognize when they’re being manipulated. Understanding the tactics tends to get young people fired up about really advocating against the tobacco industry.”

Hard to get and tough to beat

It is illegal for youth to purchase tobacco products. Meg says when asked where they’re getting their tobacco from, youth say they’re mostly getting it from social sources – like family and friends – and not retail sources like the grocery store.

The numbers

36 per cent of youth in grades 10–12 get their tobacco at a store.
64 per cent of youth in grades 10–12 get their tobacco from a social source.

11per cent of youth in grades 5–9 get their tobacco at a store.
89 per cent of youth in grades 5–9 get their tobacco from a social source.

Tobacco is a highly addictive. When youth use tobacco products, their rapidly growing bodies and different hormone levels make the tobacco addiction occur much more quickly than it does in adults. The impact on their health is the same: increased risk of heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease. 

Meg says that, since youth become addicted more quickly than adults, it may take longer for them to end their dependence on nicotine. However, the right suppport and encouragement makes this possible. 

“But the best thing young people can do to quit, is not start smoking."

Some school health programs have peer smoking cessation groups youth can access to help them stop using tobacco products. Meg also suggests that youth see a family doctor or visit the health centre in their high school, for support and information. 

“But the best thing young people can do to quit, is not start smoking,” says Meg.

Another initiative in Nova Scotia is the Tobacco-Free Youth Sport and Recreation program. It began in 2005 to promote a non-smoking environment for youth who play sports throughout the province. The program works with sporting organizations to establish a smoke-free policy for players and coaches, including on the sportsfield - this means parents watching their children are to smoke while watching the game. Educational materials and sessions are a part of the program. The idea is for youth and coaches to make sport and recreation programs smoke-free.

“There was a time when, if you went to a high school football game, the coaches would be smoking on the sidelines,” says Meg. “Thankfully, we’re beyond that.”

Other resources:

Capital District Health Authority's Stop Smoking Services

The Canadian Lung Association.

Health Canada