OTTAWA - Smoking rates have dropped dramatically in the last 10 years, with steep declines in the number of teenage smokers, Statistics Canada reported today.

The new numbers emerged as the federal government trumpeted its mandatory new graphic anti-smoking packaging for cigarettes and small cigars.

In 2011, 1 in 5 Canadians aged 12 and older — nearly 5.8 million people — smoked on an occasional or a daily basis, down from 25.9 per cent in 2001, the statistics agency reported.

Among teens aged 15 to 17 the rate fell to 9.4 per cent from 20.8 per cent. For those aged 18 to 19, the rate dropped to one in five from one in three.

Ottawa is continuing its efforts to persuade people to quit with tougher packaging rules, which became mandatory for retailers today.

The new labelling, which must cover three-quarters of cigarette packages, includes grisly pictures of a cancer-infected mouth and of an emaciated, cancer-stricken Barb Tarbox.

Tarbox was an anti-smoking activist before dying of lung cancer at the age of 42. Her story, among others, is featured in the new packaging, which was unveiled last year.

"This initiative continues our efforts to inform Canadians — especially young people — about the health hazards of smoking," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in a news release.

A national "quitline" and website address also figure prominently on the new packs.

The newly released statistics suggest that not only are fewer people smoking, many who do are smoking less.

Of the 5.8 million smokers in 2011, nearly 4.4 million smoked cigarettes on a daily basis, but heavy smoking — a pack or more a day — is waning.

In 2011, 23.5 per cent of men who smoked daily were heavy smokers, down from 30.9 per cent a decade ago. Among women, the rate fell to 14.2 per cent from 20.3 per cent.

On the other hand, the rate of light daily smoking — 14 cigarettes a day or fewer — increased for both sexes, although the trend was more pronounced for women.

Overall, the average number of cigarettes smoked per day fell to 15 in 2011 from 17 in 2001.

Exposure to second-hand smoke has been halved, the numbers show.

The proportion of non-smokers aged 12 and older who were regularly exposed to second-hand smoke at home declined to 5.5 per cent in 2011 from 10.6 per cent in 2003.

SEE: Graphic ads from Health Canada now mandatory on tobacco packaging:
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