A school kid puffing on a cigarette behind the bike sheds. Maybe it was once a rite of passage but now almost everyone – smokers and non-smokers alike – hate the idea of young people starting to smoke.
Yet it still happens. As we announced this morning, a shocking 157,000 children aged 11 to 15 start smoking every year in the UK.
Decades of research shows that smoking has a devastating effect on health. But despite major successes (for example, half as many teenagers smoke as they did 15 years ago) these new statistics starkly highlight the need to do even more, particularly to protect children from smoking.
With most forms of tobacco advertising outlawed in the UK, the cigarette packet is now the tobacco industry’s main weapon to market their deadly product. Research shows the packs are attractive to young people and when eight in 10 people start smoking before they are 19 – this is the key time to prevent people from smoking.
That’s why we’re extremely keen to follow in Australia’s footsteps and for plain packaging legislation to be introduced here in the UK.
As we said last year, the stark reality is that smoking is still by far the largest preventable cause of cancer. And we’re not talking small numbers here – smoking causes a quarter of all cancer deaths. In the UK, that’s five times more people than road accidents, overdoses, murder, suicide and HIV all put together.
Today’s statistics give another perspective on the tobacco problem, one that highlights the pressing need to tackle tobacco for the future health of children in the UK.
Picture again that rebel kid having a cigarette behind the bike sheds, possibly the first of many thousands over a lifetime. Now imagine a whole classroom’s worth of such children. It’s staggering, but around 14 classrooms of children are taking up the habit in the UK every day, adding up to around 5,200 classrooms per year.
Sometimes cliché is warranted – this represents a health time-bomb of nuclear proportions.
Tobacco legislation works
How do we defuse this bomb? When it comes to tobacco, part of the answer lies in legislation – laws that make it harder for tobacco companies to peddle their wares.
Why? Because we know legislation works: successful anti-smoking measures such as the tobacco advertising ban and the legislation making public places smokefree have helped more smokers to quit, and to bring down smoking rates.
But far too many young people start smoking every year. We must bring this number down too.
We’ve already had some success – in 2009, Cancer Research UK and others successfully campaigned to remove tobacco displays in shops and to end the sale of tobacco from vending machines. The measures are vital to protect children from tobacco marketing and to prevent children from easily accessing tobacco products.
Our next battle is plain packaging – selling all cigarettes in standardised packs will help reduce the appeal of smoking and give children one less reason to start smoking.
Support our campaign
Tobacco reigns supreme as the biggest preventable cause of cancer. We’re determined to bring this reign to an end. We will be working hard to make plain packaging a reality in the UK over the coming weeks and months.
In the meantime, why not support our campaign to protect children from tobacco marketing through plain packaging by signing our petition.