Almost 600 under-16s take up smoking every day in the UK, research suggests.
Experts used survey data from more than 6,500 youngsters to estimate there were 207,000 new child smokers between 2010 and 2011.
The data was drawn from surveys of secondary school pupils in England in years 7 to 11 (mostly children aged 11 to 15) carried out for the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
Published in the journal Thorax, the figures for new smokers were particularly high in London.
“Each day, 67 children, more than two classrooms full, start smoking in London,” said the experts, who included specialists from Cancer Research UK and Imperial College London.
An estimated 463 children start smoking every day in England, with 50 in Scotland, 30 in Wales and 19 in Northern Ireland.
Of 74,000 children in Birmingham, nine take up smoking every day.
The experts said: “Smoking is among the largest causes of preventable deaths worldwide.
“The present data should help to raise awareness of childhood smoking and to focus attention on the need to address this important child protection issue.”
People who start smoking before the age of 15 have a higher risk of lung cancer than those who start later, they said.
The team also pointed to “compelling evidence that young people are susceptible to branding and advertising and are influenced by the depiction of smoking in films”.
They said: “Legislation is needed to counter the efforts of the tobacco industry, but this requires political will by legislators at both national and local levels.”
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Although the thought of nearly 20 classrooms full of children taking up smoking every day should be shocking, the sad thing is that it comes as no surprise.
“It is even sadder to think that, at current rates, half of these children are likely to eventually die as a result of their habit if they continue smoking.”
She added: “Tobacco manufacturers are still using expensively-designed packaging to recruit new young smokers.
“With this research showing that nearly 600 children start smoking every day, proposed legislation to prevent this through the introduction of standardised packaging for all tobacco products can’t come too soon.”
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s head of tobacco policy, said: “This research is a timely reminder of the scale of the tobacco problem.
“The 570 under-16s who start smoking every day are far too many lives that will be blighted by an addiction that will kill half of them if they go on to become long-term smokers.
“We must do all we can to reduce smoking rates, especially because the vast majority of smokers start before they turn 19.
“Last week’s commitment from the government to further explore standardised packaging for tobacco products is a step in the right direction that will give children one less reason to start smoking.”
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