The Smoking Endgame Part 1: A Vision of a Smoke-Free Future

Smoking EndGame

Canada’s goal is to lower the smoking rate to under 5% by 2035.  Ontario has pledged to reach 10% by 2023. What can we do for the smoking endgame to be anything more than a pipe dream?

Let me give you a “What if?” question. What if there was no smoking?  I don’t mean “no smoking”, like “no smoking indoors”, or “no smoking around the kids”. I mean really, no smoking at all, in the whole country.  Not that you aren’t allowed to--it’s not against the law--but because virtually no one in the whole country smokes. In fact, THAT’S exactly what Canada has said it’s going to do. 

This could be the last generation where any Canadian smokes cigarettes.

How does that make you feel? Do you hate smoking? Do you love it? For many people, smoking is the one relationship they know should end, but can’t or don’t really want to even though they know it would be better in the long run.  Whether you smoke like a chimney or never took a puff in your life, most people know it’s bad for you. Smoking is different from other behaviours that can be harmful because smoking is ALWAYS harmful.

I’ve heard it said that “sitting is the new smoking” and “sugar is the new smoking”.  Nope, not really… smoking is still the one and only smoking. Others aren’t harmed by second-hand sit and the occasional jelly donut is fine with balanced eating patterns, but every single cigarette does you damage and as a nation, it’s killing us.  Even with a fairly steady decline in the smoking rate over the past 50 years, there are still 45,000 smoking-related deaths every year in our country. That’s about 18% of deaths in Canada! And it continues to be the number 1 cause of preventable death worldwide.

For all of these reasons, Canada has had enough. Enough of people dying painful and preventable deaths. Enough of health care costs in the BILLIONS that can be directly attributed to smoking. There is a common misconception that the government just LOVES all those tax dollars, but they don’t even come close to covering the health care costs. The federal government has committed to the goal of less than 5% of Canadians smoking by 2035.

But how do we get there? Nationwide, about 18% of Canadians aged 12 and over smoke. So we have to drop the rate by about 1% per year to reach the goal… that sounds doable, right?  The smoking rate is declining and has been for half a century; this must mean that relatively soon we’re going to be down to zero!

Not so fast.

Recently, the rate of decrease has begun to plateau.  The downward trend is gradually leveling out, and the rate will decrease more slowly until the point that it remains steady if we just keep doing what we’re doing. 

So what is the answer?

I hate to tell you, but it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. There is absolutely nothing that we can do that will stop everyone from smoking tomorrow. Not giving out free patches. Not raising the age to sell to 25. Not even an outright ban for every tobacco industry product throughout the entire country. Nicotine dependence is that strong. How do we get people to stop using a drug that the U.S Surgeon General reported to be as addictive as heroin?

Don’t despair, friends. It can be done, but we all have to be on board. What we have to do is get to a place where people don’t want to smoke anymore. It needs to be more inconvenient to smoke, less difficult to quit, and completely unappealing to start.

It is possible and I’ll tell you in my next blog post how we can do it - stay tuned!


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