DAMNING new research claims almost 400 children aged between 11 and 15 start smoking in the Hastings borough every year well above the national average.
Cancer Research UK revealed the figures as part of a campaign to introduce plain packaged cigarettes to reduce the attraction to children.
The charity says the direct cost to the NHS of people smoking in Hastings every year is £6.2m and in terms of care and treatment of lung cancer patients.
The average number of smokers per area is 20 per cent across England but in Hastings the number is 27 per cent. More people die from smoking here than is normal with 261.4 per 1,000 dieing against the national average of 210.6.
The charity has estimated 390 children a year start smoking based on its figures of 19,000 smokers in the borough. It claims the patterns of adult smoking will be mirrored among children in that area.
A school nurse is already offering smoking cessation sessions to olders students at St Leonards Academy.
Principal Jenny Jones said: “We address this issue in a number of ways directly through the curriculum from a health, social and cost perspective. In addition our school nurse offers smoking cessation sessions to some of our older students who genuinely recognise their addiction and want to quit. We are not complacent and face the same challenges as most secondary schools with regard to tackling this agenda.”
Sarah Owen, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the 2015 election, is calling for cigarettes to be sold in plain packs without logos or colourful branding.
Ms Owen said: “Smoking related illnesses are a major drain in the NHS and we must make every effort to stop people, and young people in particular, getting addicted in the first place.
“Much as been done, and the advertising ban brought in by the last Labour government has had a major impact but we need to do more.”
County councillor Michael Wincott, who sits on the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee at County Hall said he was horrified by the statistics.
Cllr Wincott, who represents Ore and Baird wards, said: “Hastings is a deprived town and it’s clear there are some associated problems with drink and smoking. Kids are very resourceful and they may take their dinner money and spend it on a packet of cigarettes instead. But if they have parents that smoke heavily they may know no better. It is all about education and breaking the cycle. Kids are drawn to the advertising of cigarettes and the blank packaging may be a way to make them less attractive. It’s shocking how much this is costing and will be speaking to the chief executive at the East Sussex Healthcare Trust to ask what help they need.”
Dr Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “The death, disease and economic burden from tobacco use is unacceptable. The harm tobacco causes is entirely preventable and higher than average smoking rates like those in Hastings can be reduced if smokers are supported in quitting with well funded and targeted stop smoking services. This is also the case if children are discouraged from starting to smoke in the first place. Standardised cigarette packs will give children one less reason to start and are a vital part of any comprehensive tobacco control plan. The Government must allow a vote on the issue and let Parliament decide.”