More young women are now getting lung cancer and dying from it than young men. In Ontario, the incidence rate of lung cancer in young women aged 20–44 overtook the rate in young men in the late 1990s. The incidence of lung cancer in young men has been falling since the 1970s, whereas the incidence in young women rose between 1970 and 1983 and has remained at that level since then.
Lung cancer incidence trends reflect smoking trends 20 or more years earlier. Lung cancer trends in young adults are thus sensitive to changes in smoking habits among teenagers and those in their 20s.
In Canada as a whole, smoking by girls and women in their teens and early 20s peaked in the mid-1970s, about 20 years later than in males of the same age. Smoking rates in teenage girls began to outstrip rates in teenage boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Ontario data, available from the late 1970s, also show higher rates of smoking in girls.
Lung cancer trends in young adults foreshadow trends among older adults. Those who start to smoke at younger ages are the most likely to smoke heavily and to remain smokers. Continued surveillance of both smoking rates and lung cancer incidence are necessary to forecast future trends and to plan appropriate prevention programs.
Effective prevention includes tax levels and other policy measures. Efforts should be aimed especially at preventing young people from starting to smoke. The fall in teen smoking partly reflects the sharp increase in the price of cigarettes in Ontario between 1982 and 1992. Smoking increased after cigarette taxes were rolled back in 1994, but has dropped again after a tax increase at the beginning of 2001.
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posted January 2006
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