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Trudeau government suggests moving the legal smoking age to 21

Last Updated Mar 1, 2017 at 12:52 pm PST

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Teens will no longer be able to buy smokes, if Ottawa gets its way

Ottawa hopes to save lives by considering raising the legal age to buy cigarettes

OTTAWA, ON. (NEWS 1130) – The federal government is not ruling out the possibility of raising the minimum smoking age to 21. It would be a drastic move to try and reduce the number of young people picking up the habit.

The idea of raising the minimum age was put forward in a Health Canada discussion paper released last week which looks at ways to reach the federal government’s goal of reducing the smoking rate in Canada to five per cent by the year 2035. It currently stands at 13 per cent.


Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott points out nothing is set in stone but she is considering her options. “We have used every evidence-based mechanism that’s been used internationally so far, it’s time to push the envelope. What are those next steps?”

She says they are looking to get the conversation started in a bid to save lives. “We’ve put out some bold ideas, things like raising the age of access. Things like putting restrictions in terms of multi-person dwellings. We want to hear now what Canadians think about those.”

The government already has a bill in Parliament to introduce plain packaging for tobacco and regulations for e-cigarettes. About 37,000 people die in Canada each year from a smoking-related illness.

Feds have support

The Canadian Cancer Society is supporting the idea of setting a federal smoking age of 21.

Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the society, says it can help keep tobacco out of the hands of young people. “So, if you’re 16 or 17-years-old you are probably going to know an older brother or sister or a friend who is going to be of age who can get the cigarettes. But I think with the age of 21, then you’re going to need to know someone who is three or four years older — that’s going to reduce the social sources.”

While he believes raising the smoking age is an inevitability, he doesn’t believe the feds will follow through on the other suggestion to ban smoking in multi-unit dwellings like apartment buildings.

Cunningham cites a 2015 study from the US-based National Institute of Medicine, which suggests raising the legal smoking age to 21 could drop the smoking rate by roughly 12 per cent, and eventually reduce smoking-related deaths by 10 per cent.

The idea has also been previously supported by both BC’s health minister and the province’s top doctor.