FOR generations of rebellious pupils having a fly smoke behind the bike sheds before class was a rite of passage.

Equally likely for those getting caught was a trip to the headteachers’ office for a stern telling off or, in the old days, a belt across the hand.

Now a new campaign has been launched to discourage schools from punishing pupils for smoking.

Instead, ant-smoking charity ASH Scotland wants teachers and heads to help and support smokers as part of a drive to make schools tobacco free.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH Scotland, said the latest figures showed smoking was still a problem, with 13,000 children under the age of 16 taking up smoking every year.

Some 40 per cent of adult smokers say they started before the age of 16 and almost nobody starts smoking after the age of 25.

In 2016 a study by academics at Nottingham University found teenagers were heavily exposed to tobacco and alcohol images and lyrics in music videos and other content on video sharing sites such as YouTube.

Research also suggests tobacco use can be linked to issues such as attendance, academic performance and future aspiration.

Mrs Duffy said: “While the image of children smoking behind the bike sheds might feel like yesterday’s concern, this is a problem that has evolved rather than disappeared.

“The fact is that for some children smoking still retains a residual appeal because it is a chance to project rebelliousness or an easy, off the shelf identity for those still searching for one.

“Most young people today do not smoke, let’s be glad of that, but those who do are increasingly those who might be challenged by school life in other ways, whether struggling to find their place socially or lacking success in the classroom.”

Mrs Duffy said the time has come to stop punishing children for smoking - and not just because such an approach had not worked in the past.

She said: “These children shouldn’t be punished, they need to be supported to be more ambitious for their own health and well-being. “Achieving that means working across the school to boost their skills, confidence and ambition. This is where our Tobacco-free Schools pack comes in.”

The pack, to be launched at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow, builds on the experience of 20 schools in the Lothians area who have approached anti-smoking policies in a different way.

The schools use new teaching materials to educate pupils on the risks and disadvantages of smoking, such as diseases, exposure to harmful chemicals or the costs.

Schools have considered the availability of cigarettes in shops in the community by working with trading standards or discussing the issue with families who smoke.

The pack recommends that staff are trained to feel more comfortable about raising the issue of quitting smoking with pupils, their families and colleagues.

It adds: “All staff, pupils and visitors should be encouraged to recognise their role-modelling influence and not smoke or knowingly permit smoking within the school grounds.”

However, it also acknowledges that if smoking is successfully moved off school grounds there could be an impact with smokers displaced to other areas in the community.

The project was piloted at the Spartans Alternative School in Edinburgh, which caters for teenagers at risk of dropping out.

Emma Easton, the school manager, said pupils had responded positively, although no smokers had so far managed to drop the habit entirely.

She said: “There is still a macho bravado aspect to smoking and it becomes a way of fitting in with their peers, as well as perhaps appearing older or tougher.

“The pupils engaged with the project and took it all very seriously, but the issue is that teenagers at that age feel invincible in every aspect of their life so it is difficult to change overnight.”

Mrs Easton said talking to pupils about the issue rather than sanctioning them helped build positive relationships.

And although no existing smokers quit entirely, most tried to cut down, and crucially, non smokers found the project helped them ward off peer group pressure to start.