SHOCKED health chiefs are appalled by new figures which shows a child starts smoking in Hartlepool almost every day – ignoring stark warnings.
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The worrying figures, released by Cancer Research UK, reveal 342 children aged between 11-15 in the town start to light up each year and are then at risk of getting hooked.
And the Hartlepool youngsters are also included in frightening numbers which show 24 children in the same age group start smoking in the North-East every day.
As organisations now campaign for youngsters to stub out cigarettes and cut out tobacco, Cancer Research UK is being backed by anti-smoking charity Fresh as they push for a change in UK legislation and to outlaw the “scandalous” packaging of cigarettes and tobacco products.
Campaigners want to see the introduction of plain standardised packaging in a bid to make the brands less attractive and in turn less appealing to young people.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “It’s appalling that all these children start smoking every year, getting hooked on an addictive product that kills half of all long-term users.
“Whether you smoke or not, nobody wants their children to start.”
Hartlepool secondary school headteachers are concerned by the figures but say they are doing all they can in school to ensure students are aware of the health dangers posed by lighting up and smoking tobacco.
The issue of tobacco packaging was discussed in the House of Commons last week at the request of Stockton North Labour MP Alex Cunningham.
And the matter is set to be discussed more in the coming weeks with campaigning charities hoping that paves the way for plain, standardised packets to be introduced.
Cancer Research UK has also released a short hard-hitting film to highlight the scale of the tobacco problem with young people in the region.
The figures are released just weeks after smokers in the region were urged to kick the habit for good as part of Stoptober, which included drop-in sessions to help people stop smoking.
Paul Wadsworth, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the North East, said: “The evidence shows children are attracted to glitzy, slickly-designed cigarettes and packs. The House of Lords is debating the issue over the next few weeks which could allow Parliament a chance to vote on legislation to introduce standardised packaging and discourage youngsters from starting this life-threatening habit.
“We are calling on people in the North East to watch our new film and share it with as many people as possible.
“We need everyone to join us in urging the Government to introduce standardised packaging as soon as possible and prioritise our children’s health over tobacco company profits.”
Fresh director Ms Rutter added: “Tobacco promotion clearly plays a major role in making a poisonous product look more desirable and less harmful.
“It is scandalous that some of the current tobacco packaging looks like Lego and make-up.
“The Government already has the strong evidence that standard packs almost entirely covered by graphic warnings would make smoking less attractive to children and stop disguising the harm smoking does.
“We need to follow Australia, where nearly half of teenagers say they are deterred by cigarette packs.”