Study finds minimum age laws curb youth smoking

February 1, 2018

New research from Northern Medical Program Professor Dr. Russ Callaghan has found that Canadian minimum age of tobacco sales laws are effective in limiting smoking in underage youth. 

In a study recently published in the Tobacco Control journal, Dr. Callaghan and his team looked at data from seven Canadian Community Health Surveys (2000-2014), which assess health-related behaviours among Canadians at least 15 years old. They found that in comparison to age groups slightly younger than the minimum age, those just older had significant and abrupt increases in reporting current or daily smoking immediately after reaching legal age.

“Surprisingly little is known about the international effectiveness of minimum-age laws on youth smoking,” said Dr. Callaghan, the study’s lead author. “Given that these laws appear to limit smoking behaviour among age-restricted youth, it is reasonable to argue that raising the age to 21 years would likely decrease smoking behaviour in newly restricted age groups.

“The findings also suggest that raising the minimum age would likely be an important policy option to help Canada achieve the federal government’s ambitious goal of reducing smoking to five per cent in the population by 2035.”

Health Canada, provincial tobacco control leaders, and research organizations, as well as provincial lawmakers, have proposed raising the minimum age for tobacco sales (MATS) to 21 years as a key policy option for reducing the country’s tobacco-smoking epidemic. Current Canadian MATS laws are 18 years in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and 19 years in B.C. and the rest of the country.

“My hope is that these findings will help policymakers and public health officials gauge the effectiveness of MATS laws and help them implement evidence-based legislation and policies to reduce tobacco use in Canada and other countries worldwide,” said Dr. Callaghan.

The published study is the completion of a $75,000 research project funded in 2017 through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health (CIHR-IHDCYH).

The project included an international team of researchers from UNBC, University of Toronto, and University of Arizona.