Children who live in poor areas are more exposed to cigarettes than their wealthier counterparts, research suggests.
A study of nearly 700 youngsters aged 10 to 11 found those from the most deprived regions of Scotland come across ‘tobacco retailers’, like newsagents or convenience stores, up to six times more than those from the most affluent neighbourhoods.
Researchers worry exposure at such a young age may ‘normalise’ cigarettes and make vulnerable children more likely to take up the habit.
The findings were a ‘shocking’ reminder of how much time children spend around cigarettes.
Children from poor areas are exposed to cigarettes more than wealthy youngsters (stock)
The study was carried out by the University of Glasgow and led by Dr Fiona Caryl, a research assistant in the social & public health sciences unit.
‘Our findings provide a significant contribution to the policy debate on tobacco availability,’ Dr Caryl said.
‘Identifying ways to reverse the normalising effects of ubiquitous tobacco retailing is key to policies aimed at preventing people from starting smoking.’
Very few children smoke when they start secondary school, with less than 0.5 per cent of 11-year-olds in the UK regularly taking up the habit, according to statistics from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
However, by the time adolescents turn 15, eight per cent are regular smokers.
In the US, nearly one in 50 children aged 11 to 13 claimed to have smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days, according to 2018 data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Taking up smoking at a young age increases a person’s lifetime risk of lung cancer, World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show.
Teenage smokers are also three times more likely to abuse alcohol, eight times more likely to use cannabis and 22 times more likely to try cocaine, WHO data reveals.
IS THE END OF SMOKING ‘IN SIGHT’ IN THE UK?
The end of smoking is finally ‘in sight’, officials claimed in June 2017 following figures that suggested another drop in rates across the UK.
Just one in six adults now regularly light up cigarettes – with 680,000 having given up the habit completely in 2016.
The numbers of smokers dropped from 19.9 per cent in 2010 to just 15.5 per cent in 2016 in England alone, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.
Across all ages smoking prevalence is in decline, with the largest fall in 18-to-24 year olds, while e-cigarette use is on the rise in this age group.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said the UK has the second lowest smoking rate in Europe after Sweden, which proves that the Government’s tobacco-control policies are effective.
To uncover the extent of cigarette exposure in Scotland, the researchers used GPS trackers to follow a group of 692 youngsters from across the country.
Data was collected every 10 seconds for one week, with exposure being defined as a youngster coming within 10m (32ft) of a cigarette retailer.
Results – published in the journal Tobacco Control – revealed the average child spent a total of 22.7 minutes a week near a tobacco seller.
And they were exposed to these retailers 42.7 times over the seven days.
The children from the most deprived areas encountered a shop that sold cigarettes 149 times a week, compared to just 23 times for those from the most affluent areas.
Most cigarette exposures took place in convenience stores (35 per cent), followed by newsagents (15 per cent).
This exposure peaked before and after school.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH Scotland, told MailOnline: ‘We know tobacco is a lethal and often addictive product, and most smokers regret having started.
‘We also know smoking is more prevalent in areas of deprivation, meaning it is much more visible around young people growing up.
‘That children might encounter an outlet selling tobacco 140 times a week is a shocking reminder of how easy it is to sell the most harmful consumer product on the market.
‘We need to work to ensure we put cigarettes out of sight, out of mind and completely out of fashion for the generation growing up’.
The researchers stress ‘reducing tobacco outlet availability’ may be ‘crucial’ if we want to achieve ‘tobacco-free generations’.
Study author Professor Jamie Pearce, of the school of geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Any moves to reduce tobacco availability, whether to reduce the number of retail outlets, or restrict the timing of sales, will have a greater benefit for more deprived groups, who suffer the greatest amount of tobacco-related harm.’
Dr Garth Reid, interim head of Evidence for Action at NHS Health Scotland, added: ‘We welcome the findings, which will inform a report we will publish later this year.
‘[This will consider] the implications for health inequalities and tobacco control in Scotland in greater detail.’