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Child smokers

Published: 2 Feb 2016 09:39

Smoking rate drops by two thirds in 20 years.

The number of 15-year-olds who smoke regularly has dropped by more than two thirds in the last two decades, new statistics show.

In 1996, 29 per cent of 15-year-olds in Scotland smoked regularly, but in 2013 that figure had dropped to nine per cent. For 13-year-olds there was a drop from eight per cent to two per cent over the same time period.

The statistics, published today, are an analysis of data gathered over almost three decades through the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS), and a series of surveys which preceded it.

The figures also show that after the Scottish Government increased the age of cigarette sales from 16 to 18 in 2007, and introduced the Tobacco Retail Register in 2010, there was a marked decline in the numbers of children buying cigarettes from shops.

Previously, girls had consistently reported higher tobacco use than boys, but there is now no difference between the sexes.

Pupils who live in deprived areas, receive school meals or have a parent who smokes are more likely to use tobacco. This reflects other evidence which shows a clear link between deprivation and higher smoking rates.

While knowledge of the serious health impacts of tobacco is near universal, some pupils still believe smoking helps people cope with life or relax.

Minister for Public Health Maureen Watt said:

"It is extremely encouraging to see that the number of children who smoke has decreased so significantly in the last few years. I am particularly pleased to see these figures demonstrating the impact of Scottish Government policies in helping to reduce the sale of tobacco to children.

"We have set a ground-breaking target to create a tobacco-free generation by 2034 – defined as having an adult smoking rate of five per cent or less.

"If we are to achieve this, we need to stop children from taking up smoking in the first place. It's well established that the majority of smokers start their habit before they reach 18, so if we can stop people from taking it up in the first place they are far less likely to smoke later on, and are more likely to live longer and healthier lives.

"While the figures are moving in the right direction there is still work to be done – nine per cent of 15-year-olds smoking regularly is nine per cent too many, and it's concerning that some children mistakenly believe smoking can help them to relax and cope better with life.

"We will continue to work with our partners to change the culture around smoking in Scotland – including through our forthcoming Health Bill, currently passing through parliament."


SALSUS is a unique source of information on the changing habits, health and lifestyles of young people. This analysis explores trends and associations for tobacco use across time.

The SALSUS report on tobacco use among adolescents can be read in full here: