I was on LBC shortly after seven this morning discussing the latest study from Cancer Research.
According to CRUK, the number of children who have taken up smoking has risen by 50,000 in just one year:
About 207,000 children aged 11 to 15 started to smoke in 2011, a sharp rise from 157,000 in 2010.
Curiously, these figures are not supported by the latest government research, unless there has been a huge increase in the number of 11-15 year olds.
... the 5% of 11-15yr olds considered regular smokers in 2011 is unchanged over 2010. The proportion of girls who are considered to be regular smokers actually fell from 6% to 5% in 2011. The proportion of 11-15yr olds who have never smoked increased from 73% to 75% (60% in 2005).
The NatCen Social Resarch report adds:
A quarter (25%) of pupils have tried smoking at least once. This represents a sustained decline in the proportion of pupils who have tried smoking and is lower than at any time since the survey began in 1982, when more than half of pupils (53%) had tried smoking"
In 2011, 5% of pupils smoked regularly (at least once a week). The prevalence of regular smoking among 11 to 15 year olds has halved since its peak in the mid 1990's - 13% in 1996."
This is a very different scenario to the one Cancer Research is trying to concoct. Either CRUK is wrong and is scaremongering, or the government figures are wrong.
If the government figures are wrong it suggests that recent government policy (bans on tobacco displays and vending machines, for example) have been a monumental failure.
Despite its own damning indictment of tobacco control policy, CRUK thinks it has the answer to the alleged increase in the number of children smoking:
Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK, said: "With such a large number of youngsters starting to smoke every year, urgent action is needed to tackle the devastation caused by tobacco.
"Replacing slick, brightly-coloured packs that appeal to children with standard packs displaying prominent health warnings is a vital part of efforts to protect health.
"Reducing the appeal of cigarettes with plain, standardised packs will give millions of children one less reason to start smoking.
My question is this: if the display ban has failed to reduce youth smoking rates (as both government figures and CRUK's latest research suggests), why should plain packaging be any different?
Update: Not for the first time the media has fallen for CRUK's propaganda. See Child smokers: thousands more take up habit (Sky News), 207,000 children take up smoking , and 50,000 leap in child smoking: report (AFP).
The AFP agency report will of course go all around the world. Meanwhile, with the exception of the interview with me on LBC this morning, I've yet to hear (or read) a single word against CRUK's report.
Update: The BBC has the story here too – '570 children a day' start smoking, with brief quotes from me and the Tobacco Manufacturers Association.
Update: As I predicted, this story will go around the world – Organização pede mudanças em maços de cigarro proteger crianças – even though it's a gross misrepresentation of the true picture.
Always nice, though, to hear what I sound like in
Simon Clark, do grupo de lobby britânico Forest, que atua contra a adoção de restrições contra o fumo, reforça a visão de que não há indícios conclusivos associando a aparência do maço a uma redução no número de menores que fumam.
"Os principais motivos que levam adolescentes a começar a fumar é a pressão dos colegas e a influência dos pais, não a embalagem", disse.