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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 00:21 GMT
Action urged against teenage smoking
Teenage smokers
The legal age for buying cigarettes in the UK is 16
Researchers have suggested that tougher laws and stronger campaigns are needed to stop children from taking up smoking.

A study carried out in the US, published in the journal Tobacco Control, calls for the legal age for buying cigarettes to be increased to 21.

The study proposes that only those over the age of 21 should be allowed to sell tobacco to prevent teenagers from selling to their friends.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have also called for a campaign to warn parents who smoke against leaving cigarettes lying around the house, which they suggest tempts children's to take up the habit.

We believe that it is far better to make sure the existing law is enforced

ASH spokeswoman
However, the proposals have failed to gain support from anti-smoking campaigners in the UK.

A spokeswoman for ASH said enforcing existing laws and campaigns that target the entire population and not just children may be more effective.

The Massachusetts study used surveys and focus groups with 68 adolescent smokers to identify their sources of tobacco.

It found that by the time they are teenagers many obtain cigarettes through friends who work in stores that sell tobacco.

Others took cigarettes from the parents while some stood outside shops and asked strangers to buy tobacco for them.

Tougher laws

The authors called for tougher laws to prevent teenagers who work in stores from having access to or selling cigarettes.

They added the placing notices in prominent positions highlighting the penalties for buying tobacco for children could deter strangers from purchasing on their behalf.

They also suggested that a campaign aimed at shaming parents who left cigarettes around the house could help.

However, ASH said it was against increasing the legal age for buying cigarettes. "The legal age for buying cigarettes in the UK is 16 but it varies across the US.

"We believe that increasing this age would send out the wrong message and suggests that smoking really is only for adults, which makes it more attractive and desirable to children," a spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

"We believe that it is far better to make sure the existing law is enforced."

"We believe that tobacco control can best be achieved with measures that affect the whole population, such as banning advertising and working towards a society where smoking is not the norm."

Internet warning

Another study warns that action is needed to prevent young people from using the internet to buy cigarettes.

A survey of more than children in California found that just 2% had tried to buy tobacco online but the authors warned that if this area remained unchecked the problem could get much worse.

A spokeswoman for HM Customs & Excise said internet trade in cigarettes was not a major problem in the UK but added that it was an area they were keeping an eye on.

"It was fairly common a year ago but we have advertised on the internet using pop-up windows to warn people that it is illegal and that it may be a scam," she told BBC News Online.

See also:

22 Nov 01 | Health
WHO seeks tobacco-free sports
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