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Friday, 18 April 2014

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35 children start smoking every week in Cumbria

Nearly 35 underage children take up smoking across Cumbria every week.

Cigarettes Su Sear photo
Su Sear

According to a new study by the British Medical Association, a total of 1,775 11- to 15-year-olds take up the habit in the county during a year – equal to 148 a month. Figures showed the take-up was highest in Carlisle, with 35 new underage smokers a month, 30 in Allerdale, 27 in Copeland and 10 in Eden.

The figures mean five children in Cumbria start smoking every day.

Su Sear, senior health improvement specialist with Cumbria’s public health team, was “very disappointed” and intended to look at the new study closely.

“I can’t argue with it because there is still a lot of encouragement for young people to smoke,” she said. “We know the tobacco industry has to replace the people who give up – and the ones who die.

“We are working on plain packaging, for example, but there’s still a lot of it in the media – photographs of Kate Moss walking down the runway with a cigarette in her mouth, for example. Children still see celebrities smoking, and it’s still in TV programmes and films – that’s going to have an effect.”

Su also fears the e-cigarettes, which she acknowledges are “great” if people stop smoking, might encourage children to take up smoking as they become more familiar with seeing people ‘smoking’.

“Some of them look like cigarettes and I think we need to distinguish between them,” she said. “We’ve had the smoking ban for six years now so an 11-year-old child is not used to seeing people smoke on buses or restaurants. But if they’re now out and they see e-cigarettes being used in these places, smoking becomes more visible again. I think we’d almost got it ‘invisible’ but it’s creeping back in the form of e-cigarettes.”

Su was also concerned at what was in e-cigarettes.

“I think we have to start asking what they contain,” she said. “As an aid to quitting, when licensed, that will be a step forward. We have to look at how much they may promote smoking.”

South Lakes MP Tim Farron called for robust action on the minority of shops that are selling cigarettes to children.

“Many adults make the choice to smoke, and that is their decision, but this research shows that five young people a week in our area start smoking,” he said.

“We need to make sure that a small minority of shops are not selling cigarettes to children. I’m calling for more action from trading standards to deal with the unscrupulous minority.”

The figures also showed around a fifth of the Cumbrian adult population smokes, with 87,588 smokers. The highest figures were logged in Carlisle and Allerdale (24 per cent and 23 per cent), and the lowest in Eden (13.7 per cent).

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