Doctors prescribing nicotine patches to children too young to smoke

Last year more than 2,500 prescriptions were issued to teens who had gone to their doctor for help to beat their craving. The figures from the NHS show that in the past five years a total of 10 nicotine prescriptions have been dished out to children as young as 11, who could still be at primary school.

Nicotine gum costs the NHS anything from £2 to £10 per prescription depending on how many items are issued, while patches can cost as much as £25.

It means thousands of pounds of vital NHS cash is being used to give children – too young to smoke – chemical help in fighting their addiction to cigarettes.

NHS officials say it is money well spent if the treatment helps children beat cigarette addiction and dodge health problems linked to smoking. Patches are used to try to help wean people off their addiction, with a course typically ­lasting 10 weeks.

The chewing gums and lozenges are used to help fight off the immediate craving for a cigarette, with patients told to not take more than 15 per day.

In 2021, a total of 308 of these prescriptions were issued to children under 16, with some going to those as young as 12 and 13. Youngsters under the age of 18 are legally not allowed to buy cigarettes in the UK.

NHS statistics show half the children who describe themselves as regular smokers have been using cigarettes for a year or longer. Separate NHS health data shows the number of youngsters who smoke cigarettes has fallen sharply in recent years.

Latest figures showed just two per cent of children considered themselves regular smokers, while 84 per cent said they had never smoked.

Those who said they were regular smokers each consumed an average of 25 cigarettes a week, with most getting them from friends.

Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive at Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: “Although smoking is falling among teenagers, more still needs to be done.

“Most smokers start in their teens so the Government’s vision of a smoke-free future depends on reducing the number who start.

“It’s right that we support addicted teens to quit but, equally, the Government must take further action to prevent them from starting.”

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