A recent survey of Oxford County secondary schools indicates that the teen smoking rate in the region is twice as high as the Ontario Average.
The 2013 Youth Smoking Survey Oxford County School Health Profile, authored by the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo, found that the youth tobacco rate in Oxford County is at 39.6 %, more than double the provincial average of 18%.
The study also found that on average, respondents began smoking at the age of 14.
Lynn Beath, director of public health and emergency services, said the county decided to participate in the study last fall for an opportunity to get some local statistics.
“We do know that [our rates are] significantly higher than the rest of the province… but we want to take a closer look at the youth [data],” Beath said.
She noted that public health has only been able to go through preliminary data from the survey, as the information was only very recently released to the department.
In February, County Council requested more information about what could be done to help reduce youth smoking in Oxford. Public health has now prepared a report that will be discussed at Wednesday’s council meeting.
Beath said the department would like council to encourage the province of Ontario to continue with the development and implementation of initiatives to deter youth smoking.
“One of the things council can do is to advocate,” Beath said.
“To encourage the development of strategies that reduce the supply and prevent people from using the product.”
In Ontario, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 19 to purchase tobacco products however it is not illegal for minors to possess tobacco products.
In the report to council, public health outlined a study examining the actions of the province of Nova Scotia, which has made tobacco possession illegal for persons under the age of 19.
“That study pointed out that although [the legislation] had some good intentions, because it is difficult to enforce and because the youth didn’t perceive it as a deterrent, the work that would be involved … it wasn’t going to achieve the result we would like,” Beath said.
The goal, she said, is to continue on with what is already being done in the Smoke Free Ontario Act, including ensuring youth, and smokers in general, have access to a range of smoking cessation services.
The report also mentioned local activities that have been effective in discouraging tobacco use, including the City of Woodstock’s decision to enact a comprehensive outdoor smoking bylaw.
Public health, Beath said, does a great deal of work in tobacco prevention activities already.
Part of the Smoke Free Ontario funding that public health receives goes directly toward youth engagement, Beath said.
“We have a number of high school students each year that come together for What The Health,” she said.
“They do a lot of activities within their own schools … tobacco prevention is a big part of it.”
Beath said that public health plans to release more information about the 2013 Youth Smoking Survey Oxford County School Health Profile.