Doctors prescribe nicotine patches to children too young to smoke, including 11-year-olds.
Last year, more than 2,500 prescriptions were issued to teens who went to the doctor for help to fight their cravings. National Health Service data shows that over the past five years, a total of 10 nicotine prescriptions have been issued to children as young as 11 who may still be in elementary school.
Nicotine gum costs the NHS between £2 and £10 per prescription depending on how many items are dispensed, while patches can cost up to £25.
This means that thousands of pounds of NHS life-saving funds are being used to provide children too young to smoke with chemical help to fight their cigarette addiction.
NHS officials say the money is well spent if the treatment helps children beat cigarette addiction and avoid smoking-related health problems. The patches are used to help people recover from addiction, usually for 10 weeks.
Chewing gums and lozenges are used to help suppress immediate cravings for a cigarette, with patients advised not to take more than 15 per day.
In 2021, a total of 308 such prescriptions were issued to children under 16, with some of them issued to children aged 12 and 13. Young people under the age of 18 are legally prohibited from buying cigarettes in the UK.
NHS statistics show that half of the children who call themselves regular smokers smoke cigarettes for a year or more. Separate NHS health data shows that the number of young people who smoke cigarettes has fallen sharply in recent years.
The latest data showed that only two percent of children consider themselves regular smokers, while 84 percent said they had never smoked.
Those who said they were heavy smokers smoked an average of 25 cigarettes per week, with most getting them from friends.
Hazel Cheeseman, Associate Executive Director of Action Against Tobacco and Health (ASH), said: “While teen smoking is on the decline, much remains to be done.
“Most smokers start smoking in their teens, so the government’s vision for a smoke-free future depends on reducing the number of starters.
“It is right that we help addicted teenagers quit smoking, but equally, the government must take further steps to prevent them from starting.”
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