Clarification from Plymouth City Council on smoking estimates

Plymouth City Council would like to clarify the latest statistics estimating the number of young people smoking in the city.

Public Health England has released statistics which suggest that 15.93% of young people aged 15 are regular or occasional smokers, compared with a national average of 12.71%, giving Plymouth one of the highest rates.

Whilst the Council welcomes these estimates and any data which helps assist in addressing smoking, these estimates do not correlate with a recent local survey of real teenagers in the city.

Recent research by the Schools Health Education Unit team in Exeter, commissioned by secondary schools in Plymouth and Plymouth City Council’s Public Health department, suggests the actual percentage of 15 year olds smoking regularly (I.e. once a week or more) in Plymouth is much lower – around 8%. The report – Young People in Plymouth Schools – Health Related Behaviour Survey 2014 is due to be published imminently.

Councillor Sue McDonald, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Public Health for Plymouth City Council, said: “We wanted to clarify the estimates that have been released by Public Health England on the number of 15 year olds smoking in Plymouth. In reality, our own findings show there are around half the number of young people that Public Health England are estimating as smoking regularly.

“According to our recent survey with around 2,000 pupils in 15 secondary schools in Plymouth, 92% of 15 year olds in the city are not smoking one or more cigarettes per week.”

 A spokesperson for Plymouth City Council added: “The Public Health England figures are synthesized estimates – based on known factors that predict youth smoking. Public Health England themselves have said that these estimates ‘cannot be considered entirely accurate but are designed to give a snapshot for local areas to recognise where young people have a higher chance of becoming smokers.

“Whilst we are well aware of the dangers of smoking and any young person taking up smoking is one too many, this kind of data can have an adverse effect on the city’s reputation and it is important that we get the statistics right.

“Importantly, we are aware of the issue of young people smoking and we are working hard to tackle the issue.

“Plymouth City Council as the strategic lead for public health in Plymouth recognises that reducing smoking rates in the city is one of our top priorities, but we need to start as early as possible.

“Research has consistently shown that many smokers start to use tobacco in their early teens so we need to do all we can to help prevent young people taking up smoking in the first place. Some young people give into peer pressure. Proposed changes to bring in plain cigarette packaging may help with this but we also need to continue to work with local schools, via our healthcare providers Plymouth Community Healthcare, to work with young people about benefits of growing up free from tobacco. We have an evidence based approach to tackling tobacco and have established a proven preventative programme whereby we work with local children to encourage them to talk to each other about the benefits being free from tobacco.

“We have also had a recent court success following the biggest ever haul of illegal cigarettes and tobacco. This means substantially fewer cheap cigarettes will be be available on the streets of Plymouth.  Illegal tobacco makes it easier for people to carry on smoking as it usually cheaper – but also often lower grade.

“There are no sudden solutions to getting young people to stop – rather it is a range of initiatives which are designed to make Plymouth a healthier city and ensure everyone lives long, enjoyable, healthy lives.

“Smoking is one of four lifestyle behaviours – along with excessive drinking, inactivity and unhealthy diet – which lead to 54% of deaths in Plymouth, which is why we’ve launched our Thrive Plymouth scheme to encourage healthier lifestyles.”