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Boys often start smoking ‘as young as 10’

More work to be done: Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, joined by attendees of a UK Tobacco Control Research Project workshop

Schoolboys can start to smoke as young as 10, the Minister of Health told a conference yesterday.

Kim Wilson said a recent study showed that some young people tried the habit well before they reached 18, the legal age to buy tobacco.

She added that at least one person a week died from smoking-related illness last year.

Ms Wilson said, despite measures to deter children from buying cigarettes, there was “more work to be done”.

She was speaking at the start of a UK Tobacco Control Research Project workshop at Willowbank Resort and Conference Centre in Sandys yesterday.

It was part of an ongoing four-year programme started in 2016 and led by Public Health England to boost the implementation of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in UK Overseas Territories.

The workshop was held to highlight the programme’s findings and provide information about the latest research on the standardised packaging of tobacco products, where manufacturers are ordered to use plain packaging.

Ms Wilson told attendees that tobacco smoking was a “risk factor” her ministry was “consistently working to address” in the battle against killer diseases such as cancer.

She said: “While our Tobacco Act 2015 has very specific regulations to prohibit smoking, statistics reveal that our work is far from over, there is much more work to be done.

“A recent survey conducted locally indicated that children start smoking in Bermuda before age 18 — the legal age to purchase tobacco.

“Further, boys initiate smoking as young as 10 years old, although the average age that young people start smoking in Bermuda is 17 years and ten months.”

Ms Wilson said that 2018 mortality rates showed smoking led to about 11 per cent of all deaths — 15 per cent of deaths among men and 8 per cent of deaths among women.

She added: “In total there were 58 deaths attributable to smoking in 2018 which is just over one per week. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Bermuda among men and women, and most cancer deaths locally are due to lung cancer.”

The minister said the death rate figures for smokers also included those caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as emphysema.

Ms Wilson told the workshop: “We need to do more, and the Ministry of Health is committed to what is necessary to change behaviour and the appeal of using tobacco by our younger and vulnerable citizens.”

Ms Wilson continued: “Our commitment is to learn and then implement methods that adjust tobacco promotion.

“We have to, it is up to us to help save our youth from the unhealthy use of tobacco products, it is our duty and it is the Ministry of Health’s mission.”

The Tobacco Act 2015 banned smoking on school grounds and the prohibited the use of tobacco flavourings such as strawberry, vanilla and coconut.

The legislation also put an end to open displays of tobacco in stores and the sale of cigarettes from vending machines or close to toys and candies.

Sarah Hill, a senior lecturer in the Global Health Policy Unit at the University of Edinburgh, talked about tobacco control the enforcement of plain packaging for tobacco products in Overseas Territories as part of the Public Health England-commissioned research.

She carried out interviews in Bermuda earlier this year to find out what people believed were the main problems and priorities to protect people from the harm of smoking.

Dr Hill said yesterday that the 2015 Act helped the island make “real progress”.

But she explained that further reduction in exposure to tobacco advertising could be achieved through the introduction of standardised or plain packaging to eliminate “engaging, shiny colours”.

Dr Hill said: “There is very good evidence to show that young people in particular respond to the attractiveness of cigarette packets and that tobacco companies deliberately design those packets in ways that will appeal to young people.”

She added a ban on the sale of single cigarettes in places like shops and bars was also backed.

Dr Hill said: “The sale of single stick cigarettes makes it more likely that children and young people will start experimenting because it’s much easier for them to afford compared with having to buy an entire packet.”

She added the Cayman Islands outlawed single cigarette sales seven years ago.

Dr Hill added: “There is also very good evidence that increasing duty on tobacco is an effective way of reducing smoking and health harms of smoking.

“There’s certainly scope for Bermuda to increase the duty on cigarettes and other tobacco products.”

Dr Hill concluded: “It’s about people understanding that measures such as increasing cigarette duty are also intended to help protect the health and wellbeing of the Bermudian population and that there are good economic reasons to do this in terms of preventing the costs associated with tobacco-related diseases.”