Cancer Research UK data shows 157,000 children aged 11 to 15 start smoking every year in the UK – that’s 430 children every day – enough to fill 5,200 classrooms.
The figures refer to the proportion of children in an age group still smoking a year after initially stating they were smokers.
The figures also reveal that nearly a million children under the age of 15 (~27% of all children) had tried smoking at least once.
In 2009, among 12-year-olds, 1% smoked regularly, 2% reported smoking occasionally and 2% said they used to smoke. A year later in 2010, as 13-year-olds, 3% of children were still smoking regularly, 2% smoked occasionally and 4 per cent used to smoke.
The charity, which backs a move to plain packaging for tobacco, says eight out of 10 people start smoking before they are 19 and more must be done to prevent youngsters starting.
Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “Far too many young people start smoking every year. We must act to bring this number down. With advertising outlawed, the cigarette packet is now the most important marketing tool the tobacco industry has.
“Our research has shown that selling all cigarettes in standardised packs will help reduce the appeal of smoking and give children one less reason to start smoking.”