Is plain packaging the key to making cigarette smoking less appealing to children
Behind the bike sheds: A quarter of all under-15s have tried smoking once (posed by models)
Almost 160,000 children start smoking every year in the UK – enough to fill around 5,200 classrooms, a charity has warned.
The 157,000 children aged 11 to 15 who take up the habit every year could also make up 14,000 junior football teams, according to Cancer Research UK.
The charity, which supports a move to plain packaging for tobacco, says eight out of 10 people start smoking before they are 19 and more must be done to prevent youngsters starting.
The data refers to the proportion of children in an age group who were smoking a year after first saying they were smokers.
Almost a million under-15s – more than a quarter (27 per cent) of all children – have tried smoking at least once .
Among 12-year-olds alone, 1 per cent were smoking regularly in 2009, another 2 per cent smoked occasionally and 2 per cent said they used to smoke.
A year later in 2010, as 13-year-olds, 3 per cent of children smoked regularly, 2 per cent smoked occasionally and 4 per cent used to smoke.
Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: ‘Far too many young people start smoking every year. We must act to bring this number down.
‘The tobacco industry spends a great deal of money on designing cigarettes and their packets so they seem glamorous, appealing, fashionable and attractive in an effort to recruit more customers.
‘With advertising outlawed, the cigarette packet is now the most important marketing tool the tobacco industry has.
‘Our research has shown that selling all cigarettes in standardised packs will help reduce the appeal of smoking and give children one less reason to start smoking.’
Charity data suggests that children who smoke just one cigarette by the age of 11 are around twice as likely to take up smoking over the next few years as those who do not try the habit.
Peer pressure: Eight out of ten people start smoking before they are 19 years old (posed by models)
Jim Richardson, 56, from Prudhoe in Northumberland, started smoking when he was about 15 and was diagnosed with advanced and inoperable lung cancer in 2010.
The father of four said he ‘started smoking because it was considered cool’ and later switched from cigarettes to cigars due to the ‘lure’ of advertising.
‘In 2010 I woke up one morning full of aches and pains which I assumed was the start of flu.
‘I’d always been very fit so I decided to nip it in the bud by going to the doctor.
‘My GP was concerned by some blood tests so I had an X-ray which revealed a shadow on the lung and this turned out to be lung cancer.
‘The toughest day of my life was sitting each of my children down and telling them I had lung cancer.’
Mr Richardson said his treatment seems to be working, adding: ‘I feel as if I’ve been given a second chance.
‘I know first-hand how horrific lung cancer is and how it’s almost always preventable by not smoking in the first place.
‘My wife Di and I run children’s day nurseries and out-of-school clubs in Hexham and Prudhoe caring for young children.
‘I would hate to think that any of the hundreds of children we have looked after might ever go through what I have because they were tempted by one glitzy packet attempting to make smoking look cool.’