HUNDREDS of Wigan children – some of primary school age – are regular smokers.
Shocking figures released by Cancer Research UK reveal that 750 youngsters aged 10 to 14 are lighting up at least once a week.
Around 207.000 children aged 11 to 15 start smoking in the UK every year and 27 per cent of under-16s have tried it at least once, equivalent to one million youths.
Figures also show that eight out of 10 adult smokers started the habit before they were 19, with the charity aiming to target teenagers before they even try a cigarette.
Health experts in Wigan are shocked at the large number of child smokers and are taking preventative steps to ensure they learn from an early age about the habit’s dangers.
Dr Paul Turner, public health consultant at Wigan Council, said: “It is very disappointing to see so many of the borough’s young people smoking, though I’m hopeful that our pro-active, preventative approach will have a positive impact on those figures.
“In order to discourage young people from starting smoking, a number of local amateur sports clubs have adopted smoke-free touchlines to augment their existing work on encouraging young people to adopt healthier lifestyles.
“Smoke-free Families is a programme aimed at reducing the number of children subjected to second-hand smoke, where people can sign up to be partly smoke-free, where one or more rooms are kept smoke free, or wholly smoke-free to include the whole house and car.
“There is very strong evidence that the children of smokers are far more likely to take up the habit themselves. The above two programmes aim to de-normalise smoking for children.”
Meanwhile, the percentage of people of all ages smoking in Wigan has dropped from 30 per cent to 22.8 per cent, but it is still higher than the English average of 20 per cent.
Dr Turner added: “The good news is that the proportion of people smoking in Wigan borough has fallen and clearly we want to see this drop further but this is good progress.”
“A number of other actions are being taken to help people stop smoking or not start in the first place, including smoke free touchlines on sports grounds, which is a programme being supported jointly through the Tobacco Control Alliance and the Healthy Stadia Network.”
For more help on quitting smoking, Stop Smoking Service can be contacted on 01942 482539, or visiting www.bridgewater.nhs.uk/stopsmoking