Raising the legal smoking age in Canada is on the table after it was increased to 21 in many states south of the border.
But there is still much uncertainty as to whether or not these restrictions actually do impact tobacco sales and help curb smoking among youth.
Dr. Russ Callaghan of the Northern Medical Program is eager to find the answers as part of a $75,000 grant for a one-year project received from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health.
"Over the last five years, I was involved with researching minimum drinking laws and youth have been impacted with these restrictions," Callaghan said.
Dr. Callaghan and his research team will specifically look at the effects of Canada's minimum age of tobacco sales on child and youth smoking behaviour across the country.
The team includes partners from the University of Toronto and most likely, undergraduate students from UNBC.
"Experts in Canada and the United States have argued that raising the minimum age of tobacco sales would dramatically reduce smoking among youth and produce long-term health benefits for society," Callaghan said.
"But surprisingly, little research has assessed the impacts of minimum-age tobacco restrictions. This CIHR grant will provide invaluable support for our research team to generate scientific results to help guide tobacco-control policy in Canada as well as in the United States."
The legal smoking age in Canada is set by each province and territory.
Purchasing tobacco is split more or less evenly between age 18 and age 19 across Canada's provinces and territories.
The legal smoking age in British Columbia is 19.
The federal government suggested moving the leagal smoking age to 21 in early 2017.
Dr. Callaghan's abstract for the grant suggests that it is expected that a higher minimum-age policy would significantly reduce the number of teenagers and young adults starting to smoke and as a result, decrease both immediate and long-term smoking-related harms in society, such as tobacco-related illnesses, cancers and death.
The idea of raising the minimum smoking age was put forward in a Health Canada paper considering ways to reach a five per cent national smoking rate by 2035.
But little research has been done on the issue.
This is where Callaghan is ready to step in.
"I have already done some research in this area suggesting that having these age laws does have a powerful impact," Callaghan said.
Another exciting feature of this research for Callaghan includes the utilization of the Regional Data Centre recently opened at UNBC.
"This will allow researchers and students to access Statistics Canada data," Callaghan said.
The facility at UNBC is a Branch Research Data Centre affiliated with the British Columbia Inter-University Research Data Centre, which is also a member of the Canadian Research Data Centre Network.
According to Callaghan, the proposed project is also important because it will directly inform a primary aim of the current Canadian Federal Tobacco Control Strategy to prevent children and youth from starting to smoke.