More children stubbing out cigarettes

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The number of children trying cigarettes has dipped to the lowest level on record, new figures suggest.

One in five pupils aged 11 to 15 said they have tried smoking - the lowest on record since 1982 when surveys first began.

Findings of a survey of 5,000 pupils in 174 schools across England also found almost one in 10 youngsters said they had drunk alcohol in the previous week compared to a quarter in 2003.

Among 13-year-olds, just one in 25 had taken a drink in the previous seven days - down from one in five a decade before.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre said the research suggested that youngsters attitudes towards smoking, drinking and taking drugs are “considerably” healthier than a decade ago.

In 2003, 42 per cent of children polled said they had lit up at least once in the past. Only three per cent of pupils admitted to being regular smokers last year compared to nine per cent in 2003.

Six per cent of those questioned in 2013 said they had used illegal drugs in the past month, half the number a decade earlier.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health, said: “The Government target was to get smoking in 15-year-olds down to 12 per cent by 2015 - by 2013 it’s only two thirds of that amount.

“What made the difference? Government action including banning tobacco advertising, putting large health warnings on packs and making all enclosed public places smoke-free.

“But more needs to be done and plain standardised tobacco packs are the obvious next step.

“Parliament and public back the policy, now the Government must resist pressure from the tobacco industry and its front groups and make it happen.

“Every day’s delay means hundreds more children start smoking taking the first step towards addiction and premature death.”

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “It is encouraging to see that progress is being made to protect young people against this deadly addiction.

“But we cannot ignore the fact that the health of 100,000 young people in the UK is still being damaged by the regular use of these potentially lethal products.

“The Government needs to pull out all the stops to reduce the numbers of smokers further by making standardised packaging law.

“Every day of delay is allowing more young people to take up this toxic habit.”

Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, added: “We are at a pivotal time when Government has a real chance to help protect our children from the tobacco industry.

“As Government decide whether to introduce two of the most important pieces of legislation of our time - to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products and to ban smoking in cars when children are present - we urge them to listen to the overwhelming support and implement them at the soonest possible time.”

Martin Dockrell, tobacco control programme lead at Public Health England, said its ambition of a tobacco-free generation by 2025 was “within reach”.

“What we need now is to line up our plans across Government for the final push against tobacco, making the harms from smoking a thing of the past,” he added.