FEWER young people are sparking up in the Lothians thanks to a series of campaigns – by fellow children.
The region has the lowest number of young smokers since 1981 with 13 per cent of 15-year-olds and three per cent of 13-year-olds admitting to lighting up.
But with almost 20,000 children in Scotland starting smoking every year according to Cancer Research UK, health bosses are determined to drive the figure down. More than 40 per cent of smokers say they took up the habit when they were under 17, and two-thirds under the age of 18.
Health experts say targeting people when they are school-age is crucial to the fight to become smoke free.
Smokefree Youth is a confidential service for young people which can be accessed through schools, colleges and other youth services.
Avril Browne, a stop smoking facilitator, said: “We take our service to young people so that we can give them support to stop smoking in an environment they are comfortable with.
“The smoking habits of teenagers often differs from adults, as they will smoke during the day when they are with their friends and not in the evening at home as they don’t want their family to know.
“Many of the teenagers we speak to are concerned about how smoking affects their social life such as making their clothes smell bad or costing them too much money.
“However, regardless of age, smoking will have an adverse affect on their health and, like anyone, the sooner they stop smoking the sooner they will benefit.”
NHS Lothian is working in line with the Scottish Government’s tobacco strategy which aims to make smoking less appealing to children by introducing measures such as plain packaging to help prevent young people from taking up the habit. It recently launched and a national marketing campaign on the danger of second-hand smoke and to discourage adults from smoking in their homes or cars.
Groups in Lothian can apply for youth tobacco action grants of up to £750 until the end of the month, to set up projects with young people to discourage them and others from taking up the habit.
Lothian Association of Youth Clubs which has done a series of successful projects with children recording anti-smoking songs and creating a board game, Fags and Ashtrays anti-smoking project, to take to schools. LAYC director Ian Boardman said: “The Tobacco Grants scheme launched in 2013 and has acted as a catalyst to allow young people to develop projects which help prevent them and their peers from taking up smoking.
“Giving young people the chance to create projects that can communicate about smoking has proven to have a great impact, as they have developed imaginative ideas which adults would never think of.”
Colin Lumsdaine, senior health promotion specialist for NHS Lothian, said work was continuing to address why youngsters still start smoking.
He said they were looking at key “transition points” as there were clear spikes in when young people take up smoking.