Child smoking: Ash Wales given £850,000 Lottery funding to help young quit
Young people in Wales are to be targeted in a major new drive costing more than £850,000 to encourage them to stop smoking.
Children as young as 11 will be the focus of the three-year campaign by the anti-smoking charity Ash Wales.
The Young People's Quit Smoking Service, which Ash says is the first in Wales aimed solely at 11-25-year-olds, is funded by the BIG Lottery Fund.
Social media, texts, online services and a helpline will all be used.
The charity says about 14,000 people aged 11-15 try smoking every year in Wales, and 60% of under-18s want help to give up.
In England, an estimated 330,000 children under 15 try smoking every year.
In Scotland, according to the most recent figures, 13% of 15-year-olds are regular smokers.
The £864,881 will fund the new service until 2015. The charity said it wanted it to be a building block for a permanent service for children in Wales, where it is estimated 10% of 15-year-olds smoke daily.
While 60% of young smokers would like help to stop, the charity claims just 95 people under 18 were treated by Stop Smoking Wales, the national quit smoking service, in 2010-11.
The funding will allow Ash Wales to appoint seven members of staff to run the youth service.
Elen de Lacy, the chief executive, said: "There is currently a huge gap in smoking cessation support tailored to young people in Wales, but it is vital to reach them before a lifelong addiction takes hold."
Most smokers experimented with cigarettes and became addicted to nicotine in their teenage years.
She said it was "vitally important that a targeted service is available to young people to give them the facts about tobacco and the harm it causes".
She added: "Wales has youth smoking rates which are far too high with 14% of 15-year-old girls and 9% of 15-year-old boys regularly smoking... and these smokers are generally concentrated in areas of deprivation.
"A young person's smoking cessation advice service is vital if we are to address and reduce the shocking statistics of youth smoking in Wales."
The British Medical Association (BMA) Welsh secretary, Dr Richard Lewis, said the organisation was delighted at the funding.
"It is essential we break the tobacco trap," he added.
"Young smokers will become tomorrow's parents who smoke and they will continue the cycle of smoking-related ill-health and premature death.
"With most smokers becoming addicted before their mid-20s, it is essential that we try and prevent young people from taking up smoking in the first place, and if they have started smoking, an adequately resourced and targeted smoking cessation service will be key to helping them kick the habit."