Smoking is the biggest killer of Albertans -- responsible for 20% of all deaths -- says a provincial report released yesterday.
The Alberta Health and Wellness "milestone" report concludes smoking kills 3,400 Albertans each year and is the leading cause of preventable illness, disability and death.
Other major causes of death are motor vehicle collisions, falls and suicides. Fatality rates from these are higher than the Canadian average.
But overall, the report says Albertans who don't smoke are living longer, healthier lives.
"When we look at the health of Albertans over the past century, or even over the past 20 years, we can see huge gains in both longevity and overall health," said Health Minister Halvar Jonson.
The average life expectancy has increased to 81 years for women and 76 years for men.
Since 1921, men have added two years to their lifespan each decade, while women have seen it increase by 21/2 years each decade.
INFANT MORTALITY DOWN
And infant mortality rates and deaths from heart disease have dropped in the past 10 years.
Meanwhile, Statistics Canada's first survey on smoking habits, released yesterday, showed that 39% of males 20 to 24 smoked -- the highest of any group in 1999. That's up from 35% in 1990.
Among teens, 28% of 15- to 19-year-olds are puffers. That's up from 21% a decade ago.
Fewer women 20 to 24 smoke. About 29% in that age group light up compared to 35% in 1990.
But overall, about 25% of Canadians aged 15 and over -- about 6.1 million people -- smoked last year. That's down from 30% in 1990.
Alberta Tobacco Reduction Alliance spokesman Robert Lebert hopes the report, along with plans to plaster cigarette packages with graphic warnings, will convince more people to butt out.
"It's bringing to light the truth about tobacco -- it's a product that can kill you," said Lebert.
Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, said it's time for Alberta to consider a public ban on smokes.
"The government needs to act," said Hagen.