SOUTH Tyneside is a national blackspot for smoking levels among youngsters, according to new research.
Nationally, an estimated 12.71 per cent of 15-year-olds are regular or occasional smokers – but the figure stands far higher in the borough at 16.27 per cent, working out at almost one in six youngsters.
The study, commissioned by Public Health England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), paints a bleak picture across the North East, with Hartlepool (15.87 per cent) and Gateshead (15.92 per cent) also ranking high,
According to researchers, nearly eight million people still smoke in the UK, with 90 per cent having started before the age of 19.
Professor Kevin Fenton, national director health and wellbeing for Public Health England, said: “Nationally, youth smoking rates are falling and are at their lowest ever levels.
“But we know smoking rates vary considerably across the country and smoking causes greater harm to more deprived communities.
“The estimates shine a light on communities where young people have a higher risk of smoking and will help local agencies to focus efforts where they are most needed.
“We want to secure a tobacco-free generation and these figures will help us towards this goal. Our most disadvantaged communities have the most to gain.”
Professor Gillian Leng, Nice deputy chief executive, said: “Nine out of 10 smokers started by the age of 18. We must do more to prevent our children and young people from using tobacco products, or we will see tens of thousands of them suffer and die prematurely as adults.
The study comes as the Government plans to bring in plain packaging for cigarettes by the next election in order to help discourage young people from smoking.
Mike Hobday, director of policy at the British Heart Foundation, said: “These figures reinforce how important it is that Parliament votes to introduce standardised packaging to help protect young people from the deadly consequences of smoking.
“Standardised packaging makes smoking less attractive to children by stripping tobacco products of the colourful packets that make them so appealing.
“We must do everything in our power to end the tobacco industry’s toxic influence on young people’s health.”