This means that nearly 570 children are lighting up and becoming smokers for the first time every day.
The new Cancer Research UK figures show this number has jumped by an extra 50,000 from the previous year, when 157,000 started smoking.
Analysis of the data showed that the 2010 figure was unusually low and this most recent figure is similar to the numbers seen in the late 2000s.
Around 27 per cent of all under 16s have tried smoking at least once – equivalent to one million children. Eight out of ten adult smokers start before they turn 19.
And the figures show that older children smoke more than younger ones.
A survey among 12 year olds in 2010 found none were regular smokers, one per cent smoked occasionally and two per cent said they used to smoke.
But a year later in 2011 among the same age group of children, now aged 13, two per cent were found to smoke regularly, four per cent smoked occasionally and three per cent said they used to smoke.
Half of all long term smokers will die from tobacco related illness. Around 100,000 people are killed by smoking in the UK each year.
With so many children starting to smoke each year, Cancer Research UK is urging the government to commit to plain, standardised packaging of tobacco. Research has shown that children find the plain packs less appealing and are less likely to be misled by the sophisticated marketing techniques designed to make smoking attractive to youngsters.
A public consultation on the future of tobacco packaging closed in August 2012 and there has been no decision announced from the government on whether this will proceed.
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information, said: “With such a large number of youngsters starting to smoke every year, urgent action is needed to tackle the devastation caused by tobacco. Replacing slick, brightly coloured packs that appeal to children with standard packs displaying prominent health warnings, is a vital part of efforts to protect health. Reducing the appeal of cigarettes with plain, standardised packs will give millions of children one less reason to start smoking.
“These figures underline the importance of sustained action to discourage young people from starting. Smoking kills and is responsible for at least 14 different types of cancer. Standardised packaging is popular with the public and will help protect children. We urge the government to show their commitment to health and introduce plain, standardised packs as soon as possible.”
For more information contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.
Notes to editors
For more information visit Cancer Research UK’s campaign to put all tobacco in plain, standardised packaging.
This new analysis is based on figures taken from the Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England.
The “started smoking” figure is calculated by comparing the smoking rates at each age with the smoking rates of the same group in the year before.
So 12 year olds in 2011 are compared with 12 year olds in 2010. Both regular – one or more cigarette per week – and occasional smokers – less than one cigarette per week – are included.
There were an additional two per cent smokers in 2011 than 2010 (regular smokers from zero per cent to two per cent) but in addition one per cent of the 12 year old smokers in 2010 gave up (used to smoke up from two per cent to three per cent) so an equivalent number of smokers must have started (or else the one per cent smokers giving up and starting would cancel each other out) so there are actually three per cent new children smoking.
The three per cent is applied to the UK population to give a number of new children age 13 who start smoking in the UK. This is repeated for the other age groups and the totals added to give a figure for the number of new children.