The earlier a person begins to smoke, the more difficult it is to stop. Children from homes where there is stress because of divorce, alcoholism or unemployment are more likely to begin smoking regularly than are children from stable families.
According to a 1999 report, nearly 90% of European smokers begin to smoke before the age of 20. 60% of Spaniards are smokers from age 15, the highest number in the European community. Surveys in Belgium reveal that the number of 17 to 18 year old girls who smoke has doubled from 14% in 1990 to 28% in 1996. More than a third of boys of the same age smoke, up from 26% in 1990. Overall, three out of 10 Belgians smoke -- a 20 percent rise over the period 1993-96.
According to a 1992 report, an estimated 450 children begin smoking each day in the UK. One in four 16 year olds smoke. Over 300,000 children between 11 and 15 smoke regularly and 180,000 smoke occasionally. By the age of 17, 90% of young people will have tried smoking. Of these, 20% continue.
The US Food and Drug Administration reports adolescents in the USA buy about $1.26 billion worth of cigarettes each year. 19% of 18 year-olds smoke, and teenage smoking dropped by 33% during the 1980's but has not fallen further since then. Girls who begin smoking cigarettes within the first 5 years after they began menstruating were 70% more likely to develop breast cancer than nonsmokers. A new study found that this relationship exists regardless of how long the girls continued smoking.
Undeterred by the deaths of at least 110,000 people every year in the UK from smoking-related illnesses, the tobacco industry continues to derive some £70 million per year from the sale of cigarettes to children under 16.
Although most smokers start as teenagers, the vast majority are, in fact, adults. And while it raises the risk of certain illnesses, smoking itself is a behaviour – something people choose to do – not a disease. As the US Surgeon noted in a 1984 speech calling for "a smoke-free society," smoking "is a voluntary act: one does not have to smoke if one does not want to."