Campaign to target smoker parents: 12m pounds plan to cut number of young nicotine addicts

PARENTS are the target of a pounds 12m anti-smoking initiative to be launched by the Government early next year, following widespread criticism of its efforts to reduce the number of young smokers and its continuing resistance to a ban on tobacco advertising.

Dr Brian Mawhinney, the Health Minister, said yesterday that the three-year campaign will try to make parents more aware of the impact of their behaviour. Studies show that children are seven times less likely to smoke if they perceive strong parental disapproval, while the children of non-smokers are almost three times less likely to take up the habit.

Although Britain has a good track record in reducing the number of adult smokers - from 45 per cent of the population in 1974 to 30 per cent now - the levels of teenage smoking have remained largely unchanged since the mid-Eighties. About 10 per cent of 11 to 15-year-olds smoke in England, 9 per cent in Wales, and 11 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds in Scotland. The Government has accepted that the target outlined in its Health of the Nation White Paper, of a reduction in teenage smoking to 6 per cent in 1994, would not now be achieved.

Earlier this month, Sir Richard Doll, the epidemiologist who established the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, condemned the Government's attempt to cut teenage smoking as a 'complete failure'. He was supporting a backbench Bill to ban tobacco advertising, launched the day after Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, played a leading role in blocking the progress of a European Directive supporting such a ban. The Government receives around pounds 6.6bn annually from tobacco revenue. Dr Mawhinney said yesterday that tobacco price rather than an advertising ban would remain a key part of government anti-smoking strategy. The real price of a packet of cigarettes has risen by 67 per cent since 1978/79.

Smoking-related diseases account for 110,000 premature deaths annually and 50 million working days are lost a year due to smoking-related illnesses. One non-smoker a day dies from lung cancer caused by passive smoking. About 50 children a day are admitted to hospital suffering from symptoms related to passive smoking.