COUNCILLORS have given their unanimous support to a campaign for plain cigarette packaging in a bid to stop children lighting up.
The Plain Packs Protect campaign wants all cigarettes in plain standardised packs with images of the health problems caused by smoking on the front.
The UK government is set to launch a consultation and a similar scheme is running in Australia.
Health officials say there is “clear evidence” that plain packs are less attractive to young people, that they strengthen the impact of health warnings and make the packs less “misleading”.
The aim is to prevent children wanting to start smoking in the first place.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council’s health scrutiny forum as part of its ongoing investigation into cancer awareness and early diagnosis.
Forum members, who heard Hartlepool’s smoking cessation services had been praised nationally, unanimously backed the campaign.
As previously reported by the Mail, one-in-four people in Hartlepool still smoke, with £3.7m spent every year treating them.
Shock figures also show 254 pregnant women were still smoking at the time they gave birth last year.
Figures from anti-smoking lobby FRESH presented to the scrutiny forum also showed:
l 18,000 people regularly smoke in Hartlepool;
l Around 164 people die each year in the town from smoking;
l 23 per cent of Hartlepool women were recorded as smoking at the time they gave birth in the last year;
l The cost of hospital admissions to treat smoking-related problems is £1.9m a year.
But despite the grim statistics, the news is positive because Hartlepool has one of the best records in the country for getting smokers to quit.
That work was praised by FRESH director Ailsa Rutter, who said: “Nationally there are many people looking at Hartlepool as an exemplar, of how the town is tackling the problem. It boils down to a partnership approach.
“The North-East smoking rates are declining faster than the rest of England.”
The Smoke Free Hartlepool alliance, which includes council departments and health officials, was praised.
Ailsa added: “In Hartlepool this should be the number one public health priority for the next 10 years.
“If so, then in 30 years nobody will smoke. That is the right vision to have. We can do it.”
Conservative group leader Ray Wells praised the work being done by the smoking cessation services and called on health officials to target children entering secondary school.
But Labour councillor Marjorie James said she sees children aged between eight and 11 smoking and said anti-smoking work should be targeted at older primary age children.
It was also agreed to target youth and community groups and also organisations in town with large workforces.
The Health and Wellbeing Board will be made aware of the unanimous support from the health scrutiny forum.