Areas of North East England have been highlighted as among the worst areas in the country for smoking rates among young people, according to new research.
Hartlepool (15.87%), Gateshead (15.92%), South Tyneside (16.27%) and Kingston upon Hull (16.68%) have been identified as having the highest rates of youth smoking in the UK. An estimated 12.71% of 15-year-olds are regular or occasional smokers across the nation, but according to this new data there is considerable variation between areas.
Areas with the lowest number of youth smokers were concentrated in Greater London, including Harrow (5.15%), Newham (5.37%), Redbridge (5.68%) and Brent (5.70%).
The study was commissioned by Public Health England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), and was carried out using a model developed by the Universities of Portsmouth and Southampton.
A University of Portsmouth spokeswoman said: "The figures are estimates of youth smoking rates for every local authority, ward and local NHS level - based on factors known to predict young people smoking. The data will help local organisations to respond to high levels of smoking within their areas."
She said that nearly eight million people still smoke, despite the known health risks, with 90% having started before the age of 19.
Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director of Health and Wellbeing for Public Health England, said, "Nationally, youth smoking rates are falling and are at their lowest ever levels. But we know smoking rates vary considerably across the country and smoking causes greater harm to more deprived communities."
He continued "The estimates shine a light on communities where young people have a higher risk of smoking and will help local agencies to focus efforts where they are most needed. We want to secure a tobacco-free generation and these figures will help us towards this goal. Our most disadvantaged communities have the most to gain."
Professor Gillian Leng, NICE Deputy Chief Executive, added "Nine out of 10 smokers started by the age of 18. We must do more to prevent our children and young people from using tobacco products, or we will see tens of thousands of them suffer and die prematurely as adults."
Dr Liz Twigg, one of the researchers from the University of Portsmouth, said: "We know with some certainty which factors increase the likelihood of young people starting to smoke - ethnicity, social class and parental behaviour all play a role.
"For the first time we can combine these factors, national surveys of youth smoking data and what we know about local communities to identify areas where young people are likely to have a higher risk of being a smoker."
Researchers suggest that by providing a snapshot of community smoking levels, local organisations will be better informed and ready to take action to help. Reaching and preventing young people from smoking before 19 is vitally important in order to provide them with a better chance of a healthy future.
The study comes as the Government plans to bring in plain packaging for cigarettes by the next election in order to help discourage young people from smoking.