Main navigation english

Canadian Public Health Association

The story of smoke-free spaces

Nicotine is one of the main ingredients in tobacco. It is a stimulant and is classified as a drug. The membranes in the nose and mouth and the lungs act as nicotine delivery systems. In higher doses, nicotine is extremely poisonous. It is also highly addictive. A 1988 Surgeon General's report concluded that nicotine is as physically addictive as cocaine or heroin. The addictive effect of nicotine is the main reason why tobacco is widely used. Nicotine is a reinforcer because it causes many smokers to continue to smoke in order to avoid the pain of withdrawal symptoms.

People used to smoke just about everywhere: in city buses, at staff meetings, in hospital waiting rooms. That has changed substantially. The first real drive for smoking restrictions began in the early 1970s, when non-smokers became more assertive about asking smokers not to smoke. The major factor driving the movement to restrict smoking was increased knowledge of the harm that second-hand smoke has on the non-smoker.

In 1971, Air Canada divided seats on some flights into smoking and non-smoking sections. In 1973, North York, Ontario prohibited smoking in supermarkets. In 1976, the Ottawa-Hull Nonsmokers' Association mounted a strong campaign that led to the City of Ottawa passing Canada's first real antismoking bylaw. In 1977, the City of Toronto followed suit. By the 1980s, many more municipalities had passed public-place bylaws. Then in 1986, Vancouver passed a bylaw covering smoking in workplaces.

The modern era of federal tobacco control legislation began in 1988 with the passage of the Tobacco Products Control Act. The act banned traditional forms of tobacco advertising. The tobacco industry immediately launched a constitutional court challenge. Finally, in 1997, Bill C-71, the Tobacco Act, became law.

Smokers in Canada
Canadian trends in smoking
Source: Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, August 2009

Canada has made more progress in tobacco control in recent years than have most other countries in the world. During the ten year period from 1999 to 2008, there has been a decline in the overall current smoking rate among Canadians aged 15 years and older from 25% to 18%.

However, close to 5 million Canadians still smoke and tobacco remains one of the most productive and lucrative cash crops in the world.

For more information