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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Nicotine therapy for young smokers
Many people take up smoking as teenagers
Smokers as young as 12 will be given nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help them kick the habit.

The initiative has been launched by two leading cancer charities, the Cancer Research Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

The scheme will be tested in a disadvantaged area of Nottingham, but if successful may be extended across the UK.

Current British licensing laws mean that NRT is not generally recommended for use by young people under the age of 16.

But a recent government White Paper acknowledges that there are no clear reasons why teenage smokers should not use NRT products.

According to latest research, around 450 British children start smoking every day. By the age of 15, almost one in four children in England are regular smokers. It is estimated that there are around 400,000 smokers aged 11-15.

Want to quit

Professor John Britton
Professor John Britton will coordinate the project
Nearly half of all these 11-15 year olds want to give up smoking, and almost two thirds of these have made an unsuccessful attempt to quit.

Professor John Britton, who is coordinating the project, said: "At the moment we have the absurd situation that kids can easily get hold of cigarettes, but can't obtain the NRT that might help them give up.

"Children become addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes in the same way as adults and they experience the same withdrawal symptoms.

"We hope that our study will show that, as expected, NRT is just as effective in teenagers as adults in helping them to quit."

Professor Britton will be working with a range of counsellors and project workers at The Zone, a voluntary sector relational youth project.

Disadvantaged area

It is based at Corban House on Broxtowe estate - one of the most disadvantaged areas of Nottingham.

Approximately 250 young people aged between 12 and 22 use the centre each week. Many of them have been excluded from school, the majority are smokers, and most would like to give up.

Professor Britton said: "Young smokers are a crucially important group to encourage to give up.

"Most adults who smoke started in their early teens. And we know that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, like those attending The Zone, are more likely to take up smoking, and less likely to be able to stop.

"Without help the majority will probably continue to smoke for the rest of their lives."

Professor Martin Jarvis
Professor Martin Jarvis said cigarettes were a killer
Professor Martin Jarvis, from Imperial Cancer Research Fund's Health Behaviour Unit said young people from poorer backgrounds take up smoking at an earlier age and go on to become more nicotine dependent than affluent smokers.

As a result the burden of cancer and other smoking related poor health is disproportionately high in deprived areas.

He said: "It's ludicrous that young smokers aren't able to get the treatment they need to kick their habit.

"Teenage smokers should be able to get NRT as easily as they can get cigarettes."

In the first stage the team will use a detailed questionnaire to find out more about the smoking habits of the young people attending The Zone.

They will also be asked what support they would like during a quit attempt, for instance group or one-to-one counselling.

In the second stage teenagers who want to quit will, if appropriate, be offered NRT, in a controlled randomised trial. Those taking part will be given a nicotine patch or matching placebo for up to six weeks.

All young people on the trial will have access to counselling support throughout, and their success will be monitored using carbon monoxide tests.

After three months any continuing smokers on the placebo will also be offered NRT.

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Cigarettes are easy to get hold of; nicotine patches are not"
See also:

26 Jul 01 | Health
Teens risking future health
20 Jan 01 | Health
Many teen smokers want to quit
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