Page last updated at 14:04 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Plan to put tobacco in curriculum

Health advisers want to intervene before youngsters begin smoking

Lessons about tobacco should be in a range of school subjects and take in more than the physical impact of smoking, say public health advisers.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) wants to stop youngsters from starting to smoke.

It wants information about tobacco to be taught more broadly and to include the legal, economic and social issues.

But Simon Clark of the smokers' lobby group, Forest, warned "no-one likes to be nagged, least of all teenagers".

The guidance from Nice is intended to encourage intervention before young people start to experiment with smoking.

By the age of 15, more than one in six young people are regular smokers, according to Nice.

Smoking advice

The guidance calls for a concerted range of approaches - with advice on stopping smoking being given a higher profile in the curriculum.

Information about tobacco should be integrated into subjects such as biology, chemistry, citizenship and media studies, suggests the guidance - looking beyond the health advice about the physical consequences of smoking.

There are also calls for "whole school" smoke-free policies, for anyone visiting or using school premises and support for anyone associated with the school who wants to break the habit.

And anti-smoking efforts in schools and colleges should be led by both adults and young people, the advisers say.

"The earlier children become regular smokers, the greater their risk of developing life-threatening conditions, such as lung cancer and heart disease, if they continue smoking into adulthood," said Mike Kelly, director of the Nice Centre for Public Health Excellence.

Mr Clark, director of Forest, said: "It's important that young people are well educated about the risks of smoking, but if tobacco is featured across a range of subjects there is a real danger of warning fatigue.

"If they include tobacco in subjects such as citizenship and media studies, I sincerely hope that they discuss issues such as freedom of choice, personal responsibility and the role of government in changing people's behaviour. There are strong arguments on both sides of the debate."

Earlier this month health ministers announced a target of halving the number of smokers in England in the next decade.

The number of people smoking has fallen by a quarter in the past decade to 21%, and the proposed target is for this to be 10% by 2020.

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