Nursery children in smoking campaign

A HEALTH project which will see an anti-smoking message passed on to parents through nursery-aged children was attacked by an MP last night as “wrong”.

Elliot Furniss

A HEALTH project which will see an anti-smoking message passed on to parents through nursery-aged children was attacked by an MP last night as “wrong”.

Colchester and Tendring NHS Stop Smoking Service has started delivering smoking education sessions at nurseries.

Its aim is to “get to parents” by talking to their children, but Harwich MP Douglas Carswell claimed it was a poor use of NHS resources and wrong.

Mr Carswell said: “There are many people in Tendring today waiting for treatment that they aren't getting because there is not enough money.

“I have been talking to some parents this morning who have spent many years requiring local dialysis treatment and they have to travel great distances to get the treatment as there is not enough money to provide it locally.

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“I think to have an institution created by politicians giving lectures through children is outrageous.

“I think it would be very frightening if you were a small child and a state officer visited your playgroup and frightened you into what could happen to mum or dad because of their smoking.”

The service delivered its first pre-school smoking education session in Tendring on Friday at Little Pals Neighbourhood Nursery within Bishops Park College, Jaywick. It followed on from a similar event in Colchester in December.

Second-hand smoke is particularly dangerous for children because their bodies are still developing. The Department of Health says babies and children exposed to a smoky atmosphere are twice as likely to have asthma attacks and chest infections, more likely to get coughs, colds and wheezes and are off sick from school more often.

Emma Ferdinand, specialist stop smoking adviser for young people, said: “More than 40% of children live in a household with at least one smoker and children of smokers are more than twice as likely to start smoking.

“Our aim is to target parents by providing leaflets via the children on the effects of passive smoking and, as importantly, providing information on how to access the Colchester and Tendring NHS Stop Smoking Service if any parents decide they want to stop smoking.”

She added that she hoped parents would give feedback on the effectiveness of the initiative.

The service often visits primary schools and secondary schools to deliver smoking education sessions but Ms Ferdinand said it would be interesting to see how the pre-school children responded to the specially designed session.

“Our aim is to have a discussion with the children in their daily 'circle time' session about some effects of smoking and use dolls to demonstrate some of these effects,” she said

Neil Rafferty, spokesman for smoking rights group FOREST, claimed: “It's trying to place emotional pressure on parents.

“By all means, encourage parents to smoke in a different room or in the garden, but I think this is underhand. It's interfering in the relationship between a child and its parents.

“If the parent chooses to ignore this advice they could create tension and bad feeling between them and their child.”

Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, chief executive of NHS North East Essex, said smoking was the “scourge of the 21st Century” and he would be failing in his duty if he did not do everything possible to help people give up.

He said: “Smoking is the biggest killer in the country and the number one priority in our strategy. We're not going to get massive family disunity from giving out leaflets.”

“If you go in and say 'you will die horribly' then that's certainly not appropriate, but there are mechanisms and means of passing on that message.”

Dr Zollinger-Read said that even if the sessions didn't help a mum or dad give up but still stopped a child from becoming a smoker then they would be a success.

nColchester and Tendring NHS Stop Smoking Service is a free service offering practical help, support and advice for people who want to stop smoking. It can be contacted by phone free of charge on 0800 7312656 or by email at