Study tackles passive smoking

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The Independent Online
A SURVEY of smoking among 3,000 schoolchildren will for the first time investigate the effects of inhaling their parents' cigarette smoke.

The children, selected at random from 124 schools in England, will be asked questions on passive smoking and asked to undergo a saliva test for traces of cotinine, a chemical derivative of nicotine.

The survey is part of the Department of Health's initiative to cut smoking among 11 to 15-years-olds. Figures published today, however, will show that smoking in this age group is - if anything - on the increase.

A report from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, based on a similar survey of schoolchildren last year, will show that one in ten children smokes regularly, the same figure as for 1990. Among some groups, such as teenage girls, the proportion of smokers is rising.

This year's survey is mainly aimed at assessing how many children are regular smokers. But the increased sensitivity of the saliva test should enable researchers to identify children with raised levels of cotinine as a result of inhaling smoke from their parents' cigarettes.

The OPCS said it would also ask children questions to test their awareness of passive smoking. 'The questionnaires and saliva samples will be treated as strictly confidential. Pupils names will not be collected and no information will be given to school staff. The findings of the survey will be reported in such a way that individual pupils, schools or education authorities will not be identifiable.'

Anti-smoking groups such as Ash - Action on Smoking and Health - said it was unlikely that the Department of Health would meet its targets for reducing smoking among schoolchildren unless it supported the ban on tobacco advertising, which the Government has so far refused to do.