Wednesday, January 20, 1999 Published at 19:10 GMT
Eight-year-olds call smoking helpline
Many smokers start while still young
Thousands of child smokers - some as young as eight - have called a helpline following a hard-hitting anti-smoking advertising campaign.
The £2.4m Health Education Authority (HEA) campaign has been hailed a success after a flood of calls to the HEA-run Quitline.
Health experts said they were "overwhelmed" by the young age of some of the callers who admitted they were addicted to smoking. The campaign was aimed at teenagers and young adults.
The television and radio adverts feature adults talking about how they contracted cancer, heart disease and other illnesses from smoking.
One of the women featured in the TV adverts died of lung cancer before the campaign was launched on Boxing Day.
And a series of adverts highlighting the effects of smoking on skin have been featured in womens' magazines.
The campaign is aimed at 16 to 24-year-olds but the HEA said that children as young as eight were among the 6,000 youngsters who have called the helpline in the three weeks since the first adverts were shown.
"This was an overwhelming response and we were surprised by how young some of the children were but we are delighted by the reaction."
She added: "Children do start smoking at a very young age and do feel they are addicted.
"A child of 15 may now have been smoking for seven years and that makes their addiction as bad as for someone in their thirties.
"We basically issue them with similar advice to adults, though they would not be given nicotine replacement therapy like patches."
The Government has committed £100m over three years to cutting the number of smokers.
One of the people featured in the adverts spoke today of his delight at the response.
Cancer patient Peter, 39, said: "The outcome from the ads has been fantastic.
"I started smoking when I was young and paid the price. If these ads prevent 10 people from having cancer my suffering has not been in vain."
The campaign will run until No Smoking Day on 10 March.