Smoking and young people

A classroom full of children (30 young people) take up smoking every day in Wales1. Young people are the tobacco industry’s key target since they are the only ones who can replace their lifelong, but dying, customers.

049 H65 A7920 Mission Photographic Banner

Two thirds of smokers start before the age of 182, and almost 40% start smoking regularly before the age of 163. That’s why we created The Filter project to provide information and support to young people, enabling them to make an informed decision about smoking. We also provide stop smoking support to young people who want to quit.

Health Impacts

Smoking at an early age has been shown to have a severe impact on long-term health. The younger the age someone starts smoking, the greater the harm is likely to be. People who start smoking earlier are often the heaviest smokers later in life. They are also the group likely to be the most dependent and with the lowest chance of quitting4. Research shows that the earlier children become regular smokers and persist in the habit as adults, the greater the risk of developing lung cancer or heart disease, which often lead to early death5.

Img 1917 Edit

Smoking among young people in Wales

Data from the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) survey6 & 7, shows that the percentage of children in Wales classed as a regular smoker has fallen since 1998. In 2009/10, 3% of boys and 6% of girls aged 13 - 14, and 11% of boys and 16% of girls aged 15 - 16 smoked at least once a week. The 2015 report, based on 2013/14 figures, shows that smoking is at an all-time low among 15 and 16 year olds in Wales with 8% of boys and 9% of girls smoking regularly.

Smoking cessation and prevention services for young people

Adobe Stock 68100679

Our aim is to reduce smoking prevalence amongst young people and to engage them in cessation (stop smoking) support if they’ve already started smoking. To achieve this our youth service The Filter runs workshops and attends events, offers advice and information through its advice line, and trains those who work with young people such as youth workers and school nurses. The services provided by The Filter are all the more necessary due to the fact that the government-funded smoking cessation services provided in Wales are designed around adult needs and not targeted at, or suitable for, young people. During April 2014 to March 2015, Stop Smoking Wales saw a total 6,631 smokers and just 66 (1%) of those were under 18 years of age8.

Furthermore, evidence suggests youth-specific smoking cessation and prevention services are effective in stopping children from starting to smoke and increasing their ability to quit. In a meta-analysis of teen cigarette smoking cessation Sussman et al 9 reported that program conditions, compared with control conditions, appeared to give smokers a 2.90% (95% confidence interval = 1.47-4.35%) absolute advantage in quitting, increasing the probability of quitting by approximately 46% (9.14% vs. 6.24%). A feature of our youth work is delivering education and training programmes outside of schools in the community. In a review of studies focusing on interventions designed to prevent smoking among children, Müller-Riemenschneider et al10 report strong evidence of the effectiveness of community-based programmes, as signified by reductions in smoking rates of up to 10.6%. In contrast, the evidence for school-based programs alone was inconclusive.

Young People and Electronic Cigarettes

To understand the knowledge and usage of e-cigarettes among young people in Wales aged 13 to 18 we run an annual survey. 

The findings from our 2016 report provided no evidence of regular e-cigarette use among young people who have never smoked, with just 2.8% of never smokers having tried an e-cigarette more than once and only 0.6% of never smokers using e-cigarettes more than once a week. Furthermore, there is no indication that e-cigarettes are acting as a gateway into smoking tobacco cigarettes among young people in Wales. Of those respondents who reported having used both e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes at some point, just over 90% had first used tobacco cigarettes.


1Hopkinson, NS., Lester-George, A., Ormiston-Smith, N., Cox, A. & Arnott, D. Child uptake of smoking by area across the UK. Thorax 2013. doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2013-204379

2Robinson S and Bugler C (2010). Smoking and drinking among adults, 2008. General Lifestyle Survey 2008. ONS.

3Office for National Statistics (2013). General Lifestyle Survey Overview: A report on the 2011 General Lifestyle Survey.

4Royal College of Physicians. Passive smoking and children. London. 2010

5British Medical Association. Breaking the cycle of children’s exposure to tobacco smoke. London. 2007

6Welsh Government (2011). Health Behaviour in School-aged Children: initial findings from the 2009/10 survey in Wales.

7Welsh Government (2015). 2013/14 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) Wales: key findings

8Collation of results from My Local Health Service - accessed 14/01/2015

9Sussman S, Ping S, Dent C. A meta-analysis of teen cigarette smoking cessation. Health Psychol. 2006;25(5):549–57

10Müller-Riemenschneider F, Bockelbrink A, Reinhold T, Rasch A, Greiner W, Willich SN. Long-term effectiveness of behavioural interventions to prevent smoking among children and youth. Tobacco Control. 2008;17:301-2