Shock smoking levels among teenagers in Suffolk and Essex

Anne Brown, cabinet member for communities and healthy living at Essex County Council, said cutting

Anne Brown, cabinet member for communities and healthy living at Essex County Council, said cutting rates of smoking was a public health priority for the authority. - Credit: PA

More than one in 10 teenagers smoke in Essex, shock new figures have revealed.

A new survey by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) found 6% of 15-year-olds are regular smokers and 4.5% are occasional smokers, meaning 10.5% currently smoke in total – above the England average of 8.2%.

In a league table of 150 local authorities, the county was ranked the 23rd worst area, with a higher rate than cities such as Leeds (10%) and Manchester (8.9%) and other counties including Suffolk (8.6%).

Anne Brown, cabinet member for communities and healthy living at Essex County Council, said cutting rates of smoking was a “public health priority” for the authority.

She said: “In order to help tackle this issue, smoking cessation services run by the council supported more than 9,000 people to quit smoking in 2014/15.

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“Meanwhile, health initiatives targeted at educating young people about smoking-related issues are in place across Essex to prevent young people from taking up the habit. These include the award winning Youth Health Champions programme in schools.

“The programme, which was designed in Essex, uses a peer approach to help young people make positive lifestyle choices. There are also specially trained advisors to help young people who have started smoking to quit.”

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It comes after the House of Lords approved plans to introduce plain packaging on cigarette packets despite fierce opposition from the tobacco industry in March. The law will come into effect in May 2016.

Nationally, smoking accounts for more than one-third of respiratory deaths, 25% of cancer deaths and around one-seventh of cardiovascular disease deaths.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of smokers start before age 18. Of those who try smoking, between one-third and 50% will become regular smokers.

Mrs Brown added: “Young people smoking has been linked to a range of factors including: if their parents or other family members smoke, ease of obtaining cigarettes, behaviours of peers and the depiction of tobacco smoking in films, television and the media.

“Our work is further complemented by Essex Trading Standards who conduct test purchasing to identify under age sales and a concentrated effort on reducing illegal and illicit tobacco availability.”

In Suffolk, 5.9% of 15-year-olds are regular smokers and 2.7% are occasional smokers, meaning 8.6% in total currently smoke – above the England average of 8.2%. The research also found another 11.1% had tried smoking and 5.3% used to smoke.

Anna Keane, youth campaign co-ordinator for smoking prevention at Live Well Suffolk, said the charity is encouraging schoolchildren to campaign against tobacco companies.

She said: “Almost 40% of people who smoke admit to starting before the age of 16 which is concerning because we know the younger people are when they take up the habit, the harder it is for them to quit later in life.

“Earlier this year we launched a new service called CTRL Z to prevent young people and teenagers taking up the habit. We are also running a number of smoking prevention projects in schools across the county to educate young people about the dangers of smoking to their own health and society as a whole.

“We will do this by getting them involved in campaigning against tobacco companies, by educating them about how the tobacco industry operates, the huge profits they make and the tactics they use to market their products to teenagers, who they view as the smokers of tomorrow.

“We can also work with those who have taken up the habit to cut down and quit.”

A Suffolk County Council spokesman admitted the research was “concerning” but said the authority welcomes the survey overall as it provides an insight into smoking patterns among youngsters.

He said: “Taking up smoking is extremely dangerous. It is the single greatest cause of preventable ill health and death and the younger people are when they start smoking the greater the harm in later life.

“Children are also susceptible to peer pressure and copying what their friends are doing in order to fit in and we work closely with schools and young people across the county to prevent young people from starting to smoke and support them to stop.

“Suffolk County Council’s public health team also works closely with Trading Standards and retailers in Suffolk to stop the illegal sale of cigarettes to underage people.”

Meanwhile, separate research released by the HSCIC last month showed the number of schoolchildren trying smoking nationally has dropped to the lowest level on record.

The number of 11 to 15-year-olds who had tried smoking (18%) was the lowest since the annual survey began in 1982, and continues the decline since 2003, when 42% of pupils had lit up at least once.

A Department for Health spokesman added: “From October, we are changing the law to prevent adults smoking in a vehicle carrying anyone under 18. We are also making it illegal to sell e-cigarettes and buy tobacco for anyone under 18.”

Call Live Well Suffolk on 01473 229292 or visit

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