The Western Trust is rolling out a wide range of measures to tackle smoking among children, as it emerged almost 5 per cent of local 11 to 16-year-olds have taken up the habit.
Smoking prevention programmes are being taken into classrooms and youth centres across Derry and the wider western region, with a raft of measures also in place to help children quit.
The Western Trust has detailed a range of measures they are involved with after the matter of children smoking was raised in the Assembly recently by West Tyrone Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff.
In answer to questions submitted by Mr McElduff, Education Minister Peter Weir said that across the north, the prevalence of 11 to 16 year olds smoking was 5 per cent, with the west actually below average at 4.6 per cent.
Children continue to take up the potentially deadly habit despite a raft of recent measures, including increasing the legal age for sale of tobacco to 18, and banning cigarette vending machines and tobacco displays in shops.
Sonia Montgomery, Assistant Manager with the Western Trust Health Improvement Department, and Manager of the Trust’s Smoking Cessation Team, said a Schools’ Programme has been successfully running here for six years.
“It involves explaining the dangers of smoking and other unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as alcohol and drugs use, to students in secondary education.
“During the session our Smoking Cessation Officer also engages the pupils in self-esteem and refusal strategies.
“The Smoking Cessation Team also run a six to eight week targeted ‘Stop Smoking’ course in schools located in areas with higher levels of social deprivation and where evidence suggests smoking is more prevalent.”
The Smoking Cessation Team is also liaising with youth clubs and community groups to offer teenagers advice and support to quit, as well as helping to support children in care who wish to quit smoking.
Sonia added: “Looking to the future, the Smoking Cessation Team is also considering an initiative starting with a local school in Strabane, whereby we include teenagers and their parents who smoke in a combined programme.
“This will encourage both of them to quit together. The Smoking Cessation Team is also planning to work with EOTAS (Education Other Than At School) as a high percentage of these young people do smoke. We plan to run healthy lifestyle talks through the term to resolve their ambivalence to smoking.”
Any young person or a parent/carer seeking support and advice on quitting smoking can contact the Health Improvement Department on (028) 7186 5127.