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Alarm as fifty children a day start smoking

ABOUT 50 children in Scotland take up smoking each day according to new research which claims 207,000 UK teenagers became smokers between 2010 and 2011.

Researchers at the Health and Social Care Information Centre studied the prevalence of smoking among children aged between 11 and 15 at secondary schools across Britain.

Data provided by the survey of more than 6500 youngsters indicates that smoking remains an issue for young people despite falling numbers of smokers overall.

The study, published in the ­journal Thorax, found that the number of new smokers was particularly high in London.

An estimated 463 children start smoking every day in England, with 50 in Scotland, 30 in Wales and 19 in Northern Ireland.

The report said: "Each day, 67 children, more than two classrooms full, start smoking in London. Smoking is among the largest causes of preventable deaths worldwide.

"The present data should help to raise awareness of childhood smoking and to focus attention on the need to address this important child protection issue."

The team, which included specialists from Cancer Research UK and Imperial College London, said that "compelling evidence that young people are susceptible to branding and advertising, and are influenced by the depiction of smoking in films".

People who start smoking before the age of 15 have a higher risk of lung cancer than those who start later, they added.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of the anti-smoking charity ASH Scotland, said the study showed more should be done to restrict youngsters' access to cigarettes.

She said: "Although smoking rates have halved in the last generation, there are still too many young people for whom smoking appears grown-up, sophisticated or glamorous, just as the tobacco companies intend.

"Removing branding and logos, so that tobacco must be sold in drab, standardised packaging is the most immediate way of making tobacco less attractive to young people, so that they themselves choose not to smoke. We will hopefully see new laws to require this in the next year or so.

"We must also take action to reduce young people's access to cigarettes - both through clamping down on the illegal market and by taking action to address the fact more than half of 15-year-old smokers buy cigarettes directly from shops."

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK's head of tobacco policy, said: "The 570 under-16s who start smoking every day are far too many lives that will be blighted by an addiction that will kill half of them if they go on to become long-term smokers.

"We must do all we can to reduce smoking rates, especially because the vast majority of smokers start before they turn 19."

Scotland was the first country in the UK to bring in a smoking ban in public places and earlier this year a ban on the display of cigarettes and other tobacco products in large shops came into force.

Ministers have also pledged to bring in legislation to force tobacco companies to package their products in plain boxes in 2014-15.

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