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More than 200,000 UK children took up smoking in a year

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The number of children who have taken up smoking has risen by 50,000 in just one year, research suggests.

About 207,000 children aged 11 to 15 started to smoke in 2011, a sharp rise from 157,000 in 2010, Cancer Research UK said.

The charity said the figure equates to 567 children taking up the habit each day.

Almost one in three (27%) of under-16s have tried smoking at least once, a study by the charity found.

It urged the government to commit to putting all cigarettes in plain standardised packs.

Last April, the government launched a consultation on plans to introduce mandatory standardised packaging for tobacco products.

Health campaigners have welcomed the proposal, but opponents claimed it would lead to increased smuggling and job losses.

Information generated by the consultation, which closed in August, is still being analysed by health officials.

Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK, said: “With such a large number of youngsters starting to smoke every year, urgent action is needed to tackle the devastation caused by tobacco.

“Replacing slick, brightly-coloured packs that appeal to children with standard packs displaying prominent health warnings is a vital part of efforts to protect health.

“Reducing the appeal of cigarettes with plain, standardised packs will give millions of children one less reason to start smoking.

“These figures underline the importance of sustained action to discourage young people from starting.

“Smoking kills and is responsible for at least 14 different types of cancer. Standardised packaging is popular with the public and will help protect children.

“We urge the government to show their commitment to health and introduce plain, standardised packs as soon as possible.”

In December, Australia became the first country in the world to put all tobacco products in standardised packs.

Cigarette packets and other products are all sold in a standardised colour, with only the brand name and graphic warnings visible.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Stop smoking help and information has in the last few years been targeted at adults but very little at teenagers and young people. Many children see their parents smoking and think it is ok. School nurses can play a vital role in reducing young smokers but they have been given to many other things to deal with and no funding for new posts. The government needs to commit to more resources to combat this and make parents more aware of the damage they do to not only themselves but their children by smoking.

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  • We need more innovative ideas and tactics. Children not only see their parents smoking, but often the parent or older sibling is the first to offer the inaugural cigarette. What should be the penalty for someone over 18 'pushing' a drug to a minor?
    Can we get rid of the 'convenience packs' all together? Maybe sell them in packs of 30 or 40 so that they don't slip surreptitiously into a purse or book bag? Can we partner with a hair care line to advertise 'smokers shampoo, conditioner, hair spray,' deodorant, etc? Maybe that would help get the word out that you stink when you smoke.

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