One smoke can cost as little as pounds 5 pocket money

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The Independent Online
"It is," said the 14-year-old girl, "the coolest, chic-est thing you can do."

The "it" was heroin, and the girl, from Aberdeen, was describing how she and her friends smoke the drug to relax before arriving home after a long night partying on ecstasy.

David Macauley, campaign director of Scotland Against Drugs, who spoke to the teenager recently, is worried at what he calls a "dramatic" growth in heroin use among the young. He blames, in part, the "glamorizing" - deliberate or otherwise - of the drug in the media.

"Take Trainspotting," he says. "Most adults will take the view that the book and film are very anti-drugs. However, kids are not so sure; there is a lot of justification for it [drug-taking]. Unfortunately it does glamorize drugs; the heroes are linked to the drugs scene."

Mr Macauley says he was also unhappy at the haste with which the BBC put novelist Will Self on BBC2's Have I Got News For You after he snorted heroin on John Major's plane in the election campaign: "He took the heroin and was on the television that Friday night. Will Self has been glamorized by the BBC."

Although figures are scarce, there is general agreement among experts that use of the drug among young people - though still very rare - is growing. One of the core reasons is that, since an earlier spurt in use a decade ago, heroin has lost its grim and squalid Seventies "losers" tag. The drug, often called "brown", can be smoked or snorted rather than injected, and one smoke can cost as little as pounds 5 - pocket money, as one expert said.

Some believe the heroin-related death of the rock star Kurt Cobain and the scenes of John Travolta injecting the drug in Pulp Fiction have also lent a glamorous image to the drug.

Harry Shapiro, of the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence, is, however, cautious about the influence of supposed glamour. "I'm not convinced that this view of the drug has spread beyond a narrow corner of south- east England."

He believes there are more practical reasons, such as price and method: "Because it can be smoked a lot of the old taboos about it have broken down. "

Mike Goodwin, director of the drugs and legal advice agency Release, said he was "concerned" at the growing number of young people on heroin. "It is being used recreationally - at least initially. "

Mr Goodwin is dubious that the so-called "heroin look" in some fashion pictures has either come just from drug culture or has encouraged it. The causes are more complex, and deeper, involving a variety of social factors which include price, availability and peer pressure.

More than 10 years ago acampaign tried to portray the drug as the no- hopers' substance, with the slogan "Heroin screws you up". Some evidence suggested that a ravaged youth in one of the posters became an anti- hero. But more seriously it was felt the campaign may have simply diverted young people to other drugs.

Some believe the current growth is due to greater supply. Customs report a steadily increasing number of seizures - a sure sign of more imports.