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Government targets young smokers
A growing number of UK teenagers are smoking
"We want to make sure children and young people no longer fall into the trap of seeing smoking as cool and a passport to the adulthood." Frank Dobson.

Young people are to be targeted in an attempt to reduce the growing number who become addicted to cigarettes.

According to medical research, there has been a 70% rise in teenage smoking in the last 10 years, although the number of older smokers is falling.

The government's White Paper on tobacco proposes specific measures to reduce smoking by children and teenagers.

Health Secretary Frank Dobson said most people began smoking when they were young.

Very few took up the habit as adults. The tobacco companies needed to recruit 120,000 new smokers a year to make up for the number dying.

The government says it wants to see smoking among children reduced from 13% to 9% by the year 2010, with a fall to 11% by the year 2005.

Proposals to achieve these targets include:

  • a 50m anti-smoking campaign over the next three years
  • a new criminal offence for shopkeepers who knowingly and repeatedly sell cigarettes to children under 16
  • new rules for the siting of cigarette vending machines so that they are not accessible to children
  • the development of a proof of age card to stop children buying alcohol and cigarettes
  • a ban on billboard and media advertising of cigarettes over this Parliament
  • a continuation of yearly increases in cigarette tax.

The Health Education Authority says one in three young people are now smoking.

It welcomes the government's White Paper proposals, saying the 110m set aside to reduce smoking shows the government is taking the issue seriously.

Paul Lincoln of the HEA said: "For many years there has been a 'David and Goliath situation: the tobacco industry has spend hundreds of millions of pounds to encourage people to smoke while health campaigners have been restricted to relatively small budgets.

"The extra money for health education and the ban on tobacco advertising will make it a fairer fight."

The HEA is launching a media campaign aimed at 16- to 24-year-old smokers next week.

Anti-smoking group ASH also welcomed the proposals, but said the government would have to tread carefully.

It believes stressing the addictive nature of cigarettes and the "predatory nature" of the tobacco industry is more effective than conventional anti-smoking campaigns.

The British Medical Association said children who smoke should be a top priority, but it was worried tobacco companies might exploit loopholes in the EU advertising directive by "shifting advertising from the billboard to the teeshirt".

The government's main advisory committee on smoking, the Scientific Committee on Tobacco Health (SCOTH) says research shows adverts exploit teenagers' desire for independence and used sports and fashion figures to influence their behaviour.

In countries where adverts have been banned, such as Norway, health workers say teenage smoking has reduced substantially.

However, tobacco companies deny there has been any significant impact on smoking.

SCOTH says that, by the age of 15, 30% of young people are smokers with most taking up the habit at 13.

Twenty per cent bought their cigarettes from shops.

Nicotine withdrawal

Up to a third of girls and a quarter of boys smoked at least one cigarette a week with many feeling nicotine withdrawal symptoms by age 15.

The committee said young people whose parents smoked were twice as likely to follow suit.

Some teenagers are addicted to cigarettes by the age of 15
Those whose parents showed disapproval of the habit were seven times less likely to smoke.

Sibling behaviour also had a big influence, with children being four times more likely to smoke if their brothers and sisters did.

The committee said peer pressure was a huge influence and called for a joint strategy by schools, community workers, parents and government.

Tobacco companies deny they have deliberately targetted young people with tobacco advertising and they are taking legal action against SCOTH.

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14 Dec 98 | Health
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