Where there’s smoke there remains fiery opposition in Canada

A few years ago, I found a copy of Vancouver magazine from 1979. The remarkably thick volume was a monthly edition that included lengthy articles on current events, politics and lifestyle. It was also loaded with advertisements for alcoholic beverages and cigarettes.

The ban on tobacco advertising that came into effect in Canada in the late 1980s heralded a new era in sponsorship that affected events ranging from global competitions such as Formula 1 car racing to local occasions like the Celebration of Light at Coal Harbour. The limitations on where and how tobacco products could be promoted forced organizers to do things differently. At the same time, the number of places where Canadians could enjoy a cigarette became scarcer.

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Research Co. and Glacier Media have been tracking Canadians’ views on smoking and vaping, and it is fair to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has not changed how the public feels about either of the habits.

Canadians continue to agree with limiting exposure to tobacco. Across the country, 87% of Canadians support banning smoking in indoor public spaces, public transit facilities and workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos.

A similarly high proportion of Canadians (85%, and up nine points since we last checked in January 2019) also favours the existing ban on smoking inside private vehicles occupied by children.

With the passing of Bill S-5 in 2018, Health Canada took over the power to implement plain and standardized tobacco packaging. More than half of Canadians (57%) believe this was the correct decision.

Another issue that has been contentious, particularly in urban areas, is a proposal to ban smoking (tobacco and marijuana) in multi-family buildings. Almost seven in 10 Canadians (69%) are in favour of this idea; just one in five (20%) are opposed to it.

There is no gender gap on this issue. Similar proportions of men and women support the proposed smoking ban in multi-family buildings. Across age groups, Canadians aged 35 to 54 are slightly less supportive (65%) than those aged 18 to 34 (69%) and those aged 55 and over (73%).

Across the country, the notion of forbidding smoking in multi-family buildings is not as popular in Quebec (60%) and Alberta (62%), but can count on the support of at least two-thirds of residents of Atlantic Canada (67%), British Columbia (68%), Ontario (72%) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (85%).

Aside from tobacco, vaping became a new concern that required legislation a couple of years ago. Our survey shows that the proportion of Canadians who use e-cigarettes remains low (10%, down one point since our last survey in October 2019), and there is widespread support for specific policies.

One of the aspects that had to be dealt with quickly was the appeal that these products have with children and teenagers. More than two-thirds of Canadians (69%) agree with banning certain e-cigarette flavours, such as cannabis and “confectionery,” and 86% concur with prohibiting the sale of vaping products to minors.

More than seven in 10 Canadians are also willing to restrict any reference to e-cigarettes as healthier than standard tobacco products (77%) and restrict the use of testimonials and “lifestyle” advertising for vaping products (75%).

In some ways, Canadians are not seeing vapers in a different light than smokers. Almost four in five (79%) think there should be a ban on vaping in public places where smoking is prohibited, and 86% want vaping products that contain nicotine to display a warning similar to the one used for tobacco products.

In a finding that is related to a different kind of appeal, more than half of Canadians (56%) say they would not consider dating a person who used e-cigarettes. This includes 49% of Canadians aged 18 to 34, who are also more likely to be vaping now than their older counterparts.

The survey shows that most Canadians continue to support the concept of standardized plain tobacco packaging, and overwhelming majorities want to carry on with the limitations placed on lighting up in public spaces or inside vehicles with children.

On vaping, the federal government’s efforts to keep these products out of the hands of children are widely lauded. Many Canadians believe e-cigarette users should have designated areas, and more than half believe the habit disqualifies vapers from becoming romantic prospects. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from September 18 to September 20 among a representative sample of 1,000 adults in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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