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What Age Do Most Smokers Start in Canada?

May 24, 2023

Inquiries into smoking habits usually center around questions of why. Why do people start? Why do they keep consuming tobacco, knowing all the health risks?

Another essential question to ask regarding smoking habits is when. When do most smokers pick up the habit? Recent research conducted in Canada has illuminated what age most smokers start and what factors lead to that decision, which you can read about below.

What Age Do People Start Smoking?

In 2021, the World Health Organization released a report finding that tobacco use is falling worldwide. 1.32 billion users in 2015 dropped to 1.3 billion, and the figure projected for 2025 is 1.27 billion. 

Still, tobacco use is common in Canada, and there's much to learn about when and why people start. Fortunately, the government of Canada has conducted its own research into national smoking and tobacco use habits. The study reported that smoking is far more common among older Canadians, with 11% of citizens above the age of 25 reporting tobacco use, compared to 3.5% of citizens between 15 and 19. 

As to what age most Canadians start smoking, the number varies across demographics. In general, the research indicates that most Canadian smokers pick up the habit between 20 and 24, but a significant number of Canadians begin smoking between ages 15 and 19.

Smoking Among Indigenous Canadians

The Canadian Paediatric Society conducted its own research into smoking habits among Canada's indigenous populations. Researchers found that, while tobacco use is a sacred practice among several indigenous cultures, so-called “recreational misuse” is prevalent. 

In 2012, an estimated 11% of Canada's youth (15 to 19 years old) reported regular smoking habits. Compare that with 31% of youth from the Métis tribe, 56% of Inuit youth, and 33% among First Nations youth. These disparities are impacted by many factors, including cultural customs, access to tobacco, and access to education.

Why Do People Start Smoking?

You can't boil Canadian smoking habits or tobacco use down to one factor. An assortment of factors contributes to the national trends we see play out in the research.

Peer Pressure

Because so many Canadians start smoking under the age of 25, peer pressure plays a large role in the impetus to pick up the habit. 

Young people spend far more time in close proximity with each other than those in older generations. Individuals 25 and older often spend most of their time around others in professional settings. As tobacco and smoking are banned from most professional settings, older Canadians are less at risk of being exposed to it.

Family Influence

Another fact about the nature of youth is spending lots of time in close proximity to family. If your mother, father, or guardians smoke as a young person, you grow up with tobacco use normalized for you. You may not understand the risks posed by picking up the habit, and thus be more inclined to experiment.

Accessibility to Tobacco Products

Tobacco products have become increasingly accessible in recent years even as laws seek to protect youth from exposure to smoking and tobacco. E-cigarettes and disposable vapes often do not contain tobacco, but they can also normalize the act of smoking, which can lead to the use of traditional tobacco products. 

Prevalence of Smoking in Schools

In 2018, CNN reported that vaping had become an “epidemic” in American high schools. A 900% increase in e-cigarette use was reported by high schoolers between 2011 and 2015.

Just this year, a new study out of Brescia University College in Canada reported similar numbers. 26% of Canadian high schoolers admitted to having vaped within the past month. This isn't necessarily cause for concern, as most vapes are tobacco-free, and many are nicotine-free. But all the same, it can be a doorway to worse habits.

Tobacco Industry Advertising

The tobacco industry spends tons of money each year advertising its products. Even though the Canadian government has regulated advertising so that lies can't be stated and smoking itself can't be glamourized, ads still play a role in encouraging tobacco use.

Who Is Most Likely To Become Addicted?

The Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health states that the younger a person is when they start smoking, the more likely they are to become addicted. This is because of the factors listed above, in addition to lack of experience, impressionability, and co-existing mental health problems.

What Is Canada Doing To Address Tobacco Use?

Canada has rolled out a strategy to cut national tobacco use below 5% by 2035. Here's what's in the plan:

About Canada's Tobacco Strategy

The Canadian government poured $330 million into a strategy to help Canadians who smoke curb their habits, and protect those who don't from picking up the habit. The government is focused on two groups with particularly high tobacco use rates: LGBTQ+ individuals and Indigenous peoples.

The Tobacco and Vaping Products Act of 2018 gave the government enforcement powers to seize tobacco products, keeping them out of the hands of the most vulnerable. Other parts of the plan include:

  • Developing resources to help Canadians quit smoking
  • Funding programs to explore effective quitting strategies
  • Disseminating information on tobacco and nicotine alternatives to Canadians.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Age Group Smokes the Most in Canada?

The most recent data from 2020 shows that the age group that reports the most smoking in Canada is between 45 to 54-year-olds and those 55+. 

While the government is particularly focused on keeping youth from picking up the habit, it is, in fact, older Canadians who smoke the most. 

Understanding Canadian Tobacco Use

The key to curbing Canadian tobacco use is understanding it. New research, assisted by the Canadian government, is aiding immeasurably in this endeavour. Alternatives to traditional tobacco, like the line of devices developed by RELX, are also being considered to curb national use.

It will take a whole country to address this national problem.

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