Summary of results of the Youth Smoking Survey 2012-2013

Background

The Youth Smoking Survey (YSS) 2012-2013 marks the seventh cycle of data collection on youth tobacco, alcohol and drug use. A total of 47,203 students in grades 6 to 12 (grade 6 to secondary V in Quebec) responded to the survey administered between November 2012 and June 2013, representing over 2.5 million Canadian youth. The survey collected information from students in grades 6 to 12 on tobacco use, while students in grades 7 to 12 were also surveyed on alcohol and drug use.

The YSS was first conducted in 1994 and has been administered every second year since 2002. Between 1994 and 2004-2005, only youth in grades 5 to 9 were selected for this school-based survey. In 2006-2007, the coverage was expanded to include students in grades 5 to 12. Based on the low rates of tobacco use among grade 5 students, it was decided that it was no longer necessary to include that grade in the 2008-2009 and future YSS cycles.

The survey, conducted on behalf of Health Canada by Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo, captured information mainly on tobacco, alcohol, and drug use. The 2012-2013 cycle also collected information on bullying, physical activity and school connectedness.

All reported increases and decreases in the text below are statistically significant changes (i.e., unlikely to have occurred by chance alone). The words "statistically significant" will therefore not be repeated to improve readability.

Cigarette Use

The prevalence of youth having ever tried smoking a cigarette is at an all-time low since it was first monitored among Canadian youth. In 1994, nearly half the students in grades 6 to 9 (45%) reported having ever tried smoking a cigarette, decreasing to 13% (approximately 192,000 youth) in 2012-2013. Among students in grades 6 to 12, the prevalence of having ever tried smoking a cigarette also decreased since it was first recorded from 33% in 2006-2007 to 24% (approximately 603,000 youth).

In 2012-2013, 4% of students in grades 6 to 12 (approximately 114,000 students) were current cigarette smokers: 2% daily smokers and 2% occasional smokers. The current smoking prevalence (4%) among students in grades 6 to 12 decreased compared to 2010-2011 (6%).

For students in grades 6 to 12, the average age for smoking a whole cigarette for the first time was 13.6 years in 2012-2013.

Youth Smoking By Province

In 2012-2013, among students in grades 6 to 12, the prevalence of having ever tried smoking a cigarette ranged from a low of 19% in British Columbia to a high of 33% in Saskatchewan. Within provinces, the prevalence of students reporting having ever tried smoking a cigarette decreased since 2010-2011 in Newfoundland & Labrador (from 35% to 26%), Nova Scotia (from 32% to 24%), Alberta (from 29% to 22%), and British Columbia (from 30% to 19%). The prevalence of youth ever trying a cigarette is unchanged in the provinces of Prince Edward Island (25%), Quebec (31%), Ontario (21%) and Saskatchewan (33%). The prevalence of students reporting having ever tried smoking a cigarette in New Brunswick was 31% in 2012-2013 (the province declined to participate in the 2010-2011 survey).

Source of Cigarettes

Results from the 2012-2013 survey indicate that the majority of Canadian youth obtained their cigarettes from social sources (from friends or family, buy or get them from someone else, or ask someone to buy for them). Nearly three quarters (72%) of students, representing approximately 108,000 youth in grades 6 to 12, who smoked in the past 30 days reported usually getting their cigarettes from a social source.  Access to cigarettes through social sources is most prevalent among grades 6 to 9 smokers (82%), but remains nevertheless the main method of accessing cigarettes among smokers in grades 10 to 12 (67%).

Water-pipe Tobacco (also known as shisha, hookah, narguile)

Overall, the prevalence of water-pipe (herbal or tobacco) use increased. Among youth in grades 6 to 12, 9% (approximately 231,000 youth) reported having ever tried a water-pipe to smoke tobacco, and 3% (approximately 87,000 youth) reported such use during the last 30 days, representing an increase from 2010-2011 (6% and 2% respectively).

Flavoured Tobacco Use

Flavoured tobacco products include menthol cigarettes, as well as flavoured cigarillos, cigars, shisha (water-pipe tobacco), pipe tobacco, blunt wraps, bidis, smokeless tobacco and rolling papers.

The prevalence of youth in grades 6 to 12 who reported using at least one flavoured tobacco product in their lifetime has decreased over the past three cycles, from 19% (2008-2009), to 17% (2010-2011), to 15% (2012-2013).

The overall prevalence of past 30-day use of flavoured tobacco among students in grades 6 to 12 is unchanged at 8% (approximately 205,000 youth) compared to the previous cycle (2010-2011), however, some changes in prevalence have been identified among grade 10 to 12 students. The section below provides an overview of the changes identified.

Past 30-day Use of Flavoured Tobacco Products (All Youth)

Past 30-day prevalence of menthol cigarette use among students in grades 6 to 9 (2%) is not different from that of the previous cycle (2010-2011), however, prevalence has decreased among grades 10 to 12 students from 5%, representing approximately 68,000 youth in 2010-2011, to 4%, representing approximately 47,000 youth in 2012-2013.

The prevalence of using a water-pipe to smoke flavoured tobacco in the past 30 days is not different among grades 6 to 9 (1%) students compared to the previous cycle (2010-2011), but has increased among grades 10 to 12 students from 3%, representing approximately 36,000 youth in 2010-2011, to 4%, representing approximately 45,000 youth in 2012-2013.

Among students in grades 6 to 12, the prevalence of use of flavoured cigars and flavoured little cigars in the past 30 days is unchanged in 2012-2013 compared to 2010-2011. In 2012-2013, 3% (approximately 77,000 youth) reported using flavoured cigars and 4% (approximately 102,000 youth) reported using flavoured little cigars.

Because of the low prevalence of use recorded in the previous cycle, information on past 30-day flavoured smokeless tobacco use was not collected in the 2012-2013 cycle.

Past 30-day Use of Flavoured Tobacco Products (Users of Tobacco Products in the Past 30 days)

Among students in grades 6 to 12 who reported having used at least one tobacco product in the past 30 days, the prevalence of use of a water-pipe to smoke flavoured tobacco has increased from 13% in 2010-2011 (approximately 47,000 youth) to 17% in 2012-2013 (approximately 53,000 youth). There was also an increase in the past 30-day prevalence of flavoured cigar use from 19% in 2010-2011 (approximately 71,000 youth) to 22% in 2012-2013 (approximately 70,000 youth).

The prevalence of menthol cigarette use and flavoured little cigar (cigarillo) use in the past 30 days among students in grades 6 to 12 who reported having used at least one tobacco product in the past 30 days are not different to the results from the previous cycle (2010-2011). In 2012-2013, one in five (21%, approximately 66,000 youth) reported using menthol cigarettes and 30% (approximately 94,000 youth) reported using flavoured little cigars respectively.

Alcohol

Consistent with previous cycles, alcohol is the substance most prevalent among students in grades 7 to 12. In 2012-2013, the prevalence of past 12-month alcohol use decreased to 41% (representing approximately 864,000 youth) compared to the 45% recorded in 2010-2011. On average, youth consumed their first alcoholic beverage at 13.1 years of age, a delayed age of alcohol initiation compared to a mean age of 12.8 recorded in 2008-2009 and 2010-2011.

Approximately three in ten (29%, approximately 614,000 youth) students reported drinking excessively (i.e., five or more drinks on one occasion) in the past 12 months, a decrease from 33% in the previous cycle (2010-2011).

Nearly a quarter (24%, approximately 504,000 youth) of students in grades 7 to 12 reported drinking an alcoholic beverage and an energy drink (such as Red Bull®, Rock Star®, Monster® or another brand) on the same occasion in the year preceding the survey. This prevalence of use cannot be compared with that of 2010-2011 as it was asked differently.

Marijuana and "Synthetic Marijuana" Use

Consistent with previous cycles, questions on drug use were only asked of students in grades 7 to 12. Results show that marijuana was the substance with the highest prevalence after alcohol. In 2012-2013, one in five students (19%, approximately 413,000 youth) reported using marijuana in the year preceding the survey, not different from the 2010-2011 results but lower than the 27%, or approximately 637,000 youth, recorded in 2008-2009.

Information on "synthetic marijuana" use was collected in 2012-2013 for the first time. "Synthetic marijuana" refers to plant material that has been sprayed or coated with synthetic cannabinoids that have similar effects to those of THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. A small percentage of students in grades 7 to 12 (1%) reported using "synthetic marijuana" in the past 12 months, representing approximately 30,000 youth.

Students in grades 7 to 12 were, on average, younger (13.6 years) when they first tried "synthetic marijuana" than when they first tried marijuana (14.0 years).

Other Illicit Drugs

Results from the 2012-2013 cycle show a decreasing trend in the prevalence of past 12 month use for several substances among students in grades 7 to 12. For example, the reported use of ecstasy decreased from 6% in 2008-2009, to 5% in 2010-2011, to 3% in 2012-2013, representing approximately 55,000 youth.

Similarly, the prevalence of salvia use to get high decreased from 5% in 2008-2009, to 3% in 2010-2011, to 2% in 2012-2013 (approximately 41,000 youth). Results indicate that the prevalence of use of salvia among male students (3%) was higher than among female students (1%), a difference also seen in the previous cycle.

The 2012-2013 cycle measured for the first time, past 12-month use of the synthetic stimulants derived from piperazine named "BZP" and "TFMPP" and the synthetic stimulants related to cathinone, known as "bath salts". Overall, the prevalence of past 12 month use among students in grades 7 to 12 was 1% for each of these psychoactive substances, representing approximately 10,000 students reporting the use of "BZP" and "TFMPP" and 14,000 reporting the use of "bath salts" in the past year.

Abuse of Pharmaceuticals

The YSS collected information on the prevalence of past 12 month abuse of prescription psychoactive pharmaceuticals (i.e., sedatives/tranquillizers, stimulants, or pain relievers) and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals (i.e., dextromethorphan and sleeping medication). The prevalence of psychoactive pharmaceuticals use to get high was third highest among Canadian youth, after the use of alcohol and marijuana.

Four percent (4%) of students in grades 7 to 12 reported using at least one prescription pharmaceutical to get high, representing approximately 82,000 youth. Among the three classes of prescription pharmaceutical surveyed, the prevalence of abuse of pain relievers was the highest but decreased from 4% (approximately 86,000 youth) in 2010-2011 to 3% (approximately 58,000 youth) in 2012-2013.

Information was collected on the prevalence of dextromethorphan used to get high; dextromethorphan is an active ingredient found in many over-the-counter cough suppressant cold medicines. The 2012-2013 results show a decrease in the prevalence of abuse among students in grades 7 to 12, with 3% (approximately 65,000 youth) reporting using dextromethorphan to get high at least once in the past 12 months, down from 5% (approximately 106,000 youth) in 2010-2011.

Ease of Access

A measure of the ease of access to substances abused or used to get high was included in the YSS 2012-2013 for the first time. Students were asked how difficult it would be for them to obtain different types of drugs. Results indicate that nearly half of the students (45%, approximately 953,000 youth) in grades 7 to 12 thought it would be "fairly easy" or "very easy" to get marijuana. Approximately one in seven students indicated it would be "fairly easy" or "very easy" to get ecstasy (15%, approximately 316,000 youth) or hallucinogens (14%, approximately 303,000 youth).

Students were also asked how difficult it would be for them to obtain pain relievers.  One third of grades 7 to 12 students indicated that obtaining pain relievers would be "fairly easy" or "very easy" (33%, approximately 688,000 youth).

Risky Behaviour

The CRAFFT screening tool is used as a quick and effective way to determine if youth are at a high risk of substance problem use, abuse, or dependence (Knight et al., 1999 Footnote 1). The scale is based on six questions referring to youth behaviours in relation to substance use over the past 12 months.

Each question describes a risky behaviour which if answered in the affirmative is awarded a point. A cumulative score of 2 or more means youth are at a high risk of substance abuse and should be followed by a more comprehensive assessment.

Approximately one student in five (21%) was found to be at high risk of substance abuse, representing approximately 454,000 youth. The prevalence of grades 10 to 12 students (33%, approximately 350,000 youth) at a high risk of substance and alcohol abuse is more than three times the prevalence recorded for students in grades 7 to 9 (10%, approximately 104,000 youth).

Acknowledgement

The YSS 2012-2013 is a product of the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo and funded by Health Canada.

Reference Information

The YSS was developed to provide timely, reliable and continual monitoring of tobacco, alcohol and drug use in school aged youth (grades 6 to 12). The YSS provides essential input to the development of policies and programs. Starting in 2014-2015, the survey will be renamed the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CSTADS) to better reflect its nature as a reliable source of information for the monitoring of alcohol and drug use, as well as for tobacco use among Canadian students. The survey will continue to be conducted on a biennial basis and collect information on substance use for youth in grades 6 to 12 in all Canadian provinces. The next survey is expected to be carried out during the 2014-2015 school year.

For more information about the survey and/or its results, please contact Health Canada by e-mail (tcp-plt.questions@hc-sc.gc.ca), or by calling the toll-free telephone number (1-866-318-1116).

For information on the public-use microdata file, please contact Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo (www.yss.uwaterloo.ca or www.cstads.ca).

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