The Regional Municipality Of York


Smoking and Youth

Good news – youth smoking rates have significantly decreased in the last decade. According to the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (2015), about nine per cent of students from grades seven to 12 reported smoking in the past year. However, there is still work to be done as youth are increasingly taking up other forms of tobacco like chew, hookah and vapes.

Whether you are a teacher, community partner or parent, you play an important role in educating youth about the importance of being tobacco-free.

  • Did you know that tobacco use is the leading cause of early death, disease and disability? (
  • Studies have shown that nicotine addiction is stronger when you start smoking at a young age
  • Delaying the age when children and youth first experiment with tobacco can reduce their risk of becoming regular or daily users
  • Denormalizing tobacco use influences uptake by youth. The idea that tobacco use is socially acceptable can be developed when youth witness others using tobacco or when they use it themselves without negative consequences
  • Tobacco use has been found to play a role in the development of other drug dependencies, including alcohol and other substances.Tobacco use is also a gateway for other negative and risky behaviours like getting into fights, carrying weapons, attempting suicide and engaging in high-risk sexual behaviours.(Du Rant et al.,1997 and the American Cancer Society, 2015)


There are many reasons why young people may start to use tobacco:

  • Friends or other peers may pressure them to use tobacco products
  • Celebrities and popular media figures may glamorize tobacco use
  • Advertising is directed at youth on youth-rated movies, video games and television shows
  • Youth may see family members smoke and imitate their behaviour
  • Thinking tobacco may help them cope with stress

Unfortunately, many young people become addicted to tobacco before they realize the negative health risks.

Vapes, Hookah and Chew

Vapes and E-cigarettes

The trend of using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or vapes) has sparked concern. According to the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (2015), almost 23 per cent of Ontario students in grades seven to 12 reported trying an e-cigarette in their lifetime.

For more information, visit Vaping and ecigarettes.


Hookah, also referred to as waterpipe, goza, hubble bubble or narghile, is a device that can be used to smoke shisha, a moist tobacco or non-tobacco herbal product. Hookah has four parts – a head, a body, a bowl filled with water and one or more hoses with mouthpieces for inhaling the smoke. Charcoal heats the shisha located in the head of the device. Smoke is drawn into the bowl which is cooled by the water before the smoke is inhaled by the user. The water in the hookah does not filter out the harmful chemicals from the smoke.

Did you know?

  • Smoking shisha for one hour is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes
  • Smoke from shisha contains cancer-causing chemicals, carbon monoxide and tar
  • The health risks from using hookah are similar to those of smoking cigarettes, including heart and lung disease
  • Herbal shisha is not a healthy alternative to tobacco shisha
  • Second-hand shisha smoke is harmful to others

Chew tobacco

Most types of chew tobacco are held in your mouth, the tobacco is sucked on and the juice that forms is spit out as saliva builds up. Chew tobacco is hazardous because there are over 3,000 chemicals in chew, 28 of which can cause cancer. Some negative health effects of chew include:

  • Loss of sense of taste and smell
  • Staining of teeth, cavities, tooth loss, gum disease and bad breath
  • Cancers of the mouth, throat and voice box

Did you know about half of all oral cancer victims die within five years? Visit Know What’s in your Mouth to learn more about chew tobacco.

Second and third-hand smoke

Second-hand smoke is the smoke that goes directly into the air and the smoke that is exhaled by the smoker into the air. Second-hand smoke has over 4,000 harmful chemicals and has more tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine than what is inhaled by a smoker. Third-hand smoke is the chemicals in tobacco smoke that are left behind on surfaces which get trapped in hair, skin, fabric, carpet, furniture and toys. For more information, visit Smoke-Free Spaces.

Think a youth is too young to get breast cancer? Think again.

Many teens and young adults do not realize the link between second-hand smoke and breast cancer. Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke can increase a girl’s risk of getting breast cancer at an early age. Girls are most at risk between puberty and the end of first pregnancy, when breast cells are still developing.

Girls, you have what it takes to protect yourself. Here’s how:

  • If you smoke, work towards quitting
  • If you have friends that smoke, ask them to not smoke around you
  • Avoid second-hand smoke by choosing smoke-free areas to hang-out

Guys, respect the girls around you by not exposing them to second hand smoke. Better yet, quit for yourself.

For more information about breast cancer and smoking, please visit

Thinking about quitting or counselling a youth to quit smoking?

Quitting tobacco is one of the best things you can do to improve your health. Other benefits of quitting include:

  • More money in your pocket
  • Less worry about smelly clothes
  • No more bad breath, yellow stained teeth and fingernails
  • Reduced facial wrinkles
  • More energy and stamina

For more information visit Quitting Smoking.

Volunteer opportunities

If you are in high school in York Region and are interested in increasing awareness of tobacco related issues in your community, York Region Public Health’s Tobacco-free Living Services wants you to join its youth group!

Central East Youth Take Action (CEYTA) is a youth volunteer group for the Central East Tobacco Control Area Network and York Region. CEYTA volunteers work under a peer-to-peer model to advocate for and encourage healthy lifestyles. Volunteers participate in different youth activities and community events all year round. For more information, view the CEYTA flyer.

External Resources

Leave the Pack Behind – for more information on tobacco and young adults

Hey Something’s Different – a book on how to handle the challenges of quitting

Smoke - for smokers who don't want to quit right now

Quit - for smokers who are thinking of quitting or are ready to quit

U Know U Want 2… - a book on how to support someone’s quit attempt

Quit4Life (Health Canada) - a book for people who want to quit using tobacco

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Teachers and community partners

Individuals who work with youth have the opportunity to be positive role models. Youth look up to their parents, teachers and community leaders. Talking to youth about tobacco and incorporating tobacco use, prevention and awareness activities into your curriculum and programs can make a difference.

Remember that open, honest and respectful communication is key.

When talking to youth about tobacco it is important to:

  • Understand tobacco from a youth’s point of view – youth understand the issue differently based on their developmental stage
  • Talk about the tactics used by the tobacco industry to make tobacco appealing to youth. Explain how the industry tempts youth to buy tobacco products and/or engage in behaviours that might be harmful to their health
  • Role play, practice and provide options on how to refuse tobacco to help youth prepare for situations involving tobacco with their peers
  • Equip youth with the information, skills and motivation they need to make informed and healthy choices

Teachers and community partners play an important role in engaging youth in schools and the community. Youth engagement is the meaningful participation and sustained involvement of a young person in an activity, with a focus outside of him or herself.

When youth are engaged, they experience many significant benefits:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • Build new relationships
  • Increased sense of belonging
  • Increased sense of pride, accomplishment or satisfaction from achievements

Adults can also benefit from youth engagement:

  • Boost in energy
  • Increased connectedness with youth
  • Brings new perspective to decision-making

There are exciting volunteer opportunities for youth to learn more about tobacco and become leaders in their community.

Teacher and community partner resources

Are you looking for ways to incorporate tobacco use, prevention and awareness into your health and physical education curriculum or Healthy Schools action plan? Are you a community partner looking for ways to incorporate tobacco use, prevention and awareness activities into your existing programming? The following resources can help get you started:

The Healthy Schools Program can also have a positive impact on students’ lives by balancing nutrition, physical activity and overall well-being.

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Parents play an important role in helping their child stay tobacco-free.

Tobacco’s effect on the developing adolescent brain

Substances like tobacco can interfere with youth brain development. Since the adolescent period is a time of critical growth and development, youth are more susceptible to effects of nicotine, the addictive substance found in tobacco, leading to changes in brain development. Nicotine causes changes in the brain making youth more susceptible to other substance misuse and risk-taking behaviours.

Talking to kids about tobacco

Talking to your child is a good way to help them stay tobacco-free.

Starting the conversation:

  • Know your children
    • How they feel
    • What they like
    • Who their friends are
  • Talk about family stories and your experience with tobacco
  • Ask questions about what they know and how they feel about tobacco
  • Share some tobacco facts with them
  • If your children’s friends use tobacco, disapprove the tobacco use, not the friend
  • Look for opportunities to talk about tobacco

Remember, listening is just as important as talking.

If you use tobacco, you can still talk to your kids about tobacco.

  • Talk about your tobacco use and why you do not like it or do not want your kids to start
  • Tell your children about your struggles and journey to quitting
  • Talk about your hope for their good health

If your child smokes

  • Keep calm
  • Do not scold
  • Talk about the facts and ask questions
  • Tell them how you feel about tobacco and that you care
  • Disapprove the tobacco use, not the child
  • Keep the lines of communication open

On-screen smoking
The Ontario Film Review Board considers coarse language, nudity, violence and sexual content when assigning ratings to movies, but they do not consider tobacco images.

Smoke-Free Movies is a campaign that raises awareness of on-screen smoking. For more information on smoking and movies, watch the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit’s video Do Movies Cause Kids to Smoke?

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