Children and young people who smoke are three times more likely to report poor health

Friday, 31st May 2019

HSE warns that tobacco remains a threat to the health of our children on World No Tobacco Day

Today, (Friday, 31st May) is World No Tobacco Day and the HSE is highlighting the continuing threat smoking causes to children and the important role we all have to play in encouraging children and young people not to smoke.

The number of children and young people who smoke in Ireland has decreased significantly in recent years in line with the rest of the population from 23% in 1998 to 8% in 2014. This is a 65.2% relative reduction.  While this is a welcome trend, it still means that around 1 in 10 children and young people aged 10-17 years are current smokers. 

A special analysis of the 2014 Health Behaviour of School Aged Children (HBSC) Study conducted by the HSE Tobacco Research Group has found that children and young people who smoke are over three times more likely to report poor or fair health compared to those who do not smoke.

Dr Paul Kavanagh, Public Health Medicine and Advisor to the HSE Tobacco Free Ireland Programme, said that this research shows that even at an early age, children and young people who smoke are experiencing symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

“Children and young people who smoke reported a range of health complaints including irritability, difficulties sleeping, headaches, stomach aches and feeling nervous. These are well known symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

“Children and young people believe that damage to their health is a long way off in the future and expect to give up before any health damage occurs but we can see that they are already experiencing poorer health.

“People who smoke, including young people, tend to overestimate their ability to stop smoking before harm is done to their health. The sad reality is that 1 in 2 people who smoke will die from a smoking related illness.

“One of the most important things we can do to protect the future health of our children and young people is to create an Ireland that is tobacco free. They learn from what they see in the world around them. We all have a role to play in this whether as parents, educators, role models in our community, or by the example we set to young people. One of the ways we can do this is by making smoking something which is not a normal part of everyday life and limiting the exposure of young people to smoking.”

Children from families where smoking was allowed in the home were three times more likely to smoke than those from non-smoking homes. Smoking was not allowed in over three quarters of the homes of schoolchildren and 62% of family cars.

Martina Blake, Tobacco Free Ireland Lead with the HSE, said,

“Exposure to second-hand smoke is a serious health hazard as it is a known Class A carcinogen. Children’s bodies are still developing which makes them very vulnerable to the effects of second-hand smoke. In particular children’s respiratory rate is higher than that of an adult, therefore, they typically take more breaths per minute than the average adult and are at higher risk. 

“Smoking in cars is a particular concern because second-hand smoke levels can be extremely high due to vehicles primarily being enclosed spaces and leaving a window open, while often perceived as a measure to reduce exposure, does not reduce the risk.

“As well as the significant health risks to children from second-hand smoke, research shows that children growing up in a home where they witness the adults in their lives smoking regularly are more likely to become regular smokers themselves.

“If you are a parent who smokes, one of the best things you can do for your own health and the health of your children is to quit. We hear from people who want to stop smoking that concern for their children is a key reason for wanting to make a change. We also know that for some, quitting can be difficult, but we are appealing to all those who smoke to stop putting off making that decision to quit and to access all of the free, non-judgemental support available from the HSE Quit team to help you. You don’t have to travel this road alone.

“In order to help denormalise smoking for future generations, it’s important that we create as many tobacco-free environments as possible for our children so that they witness less and less adult smoking and have the best chance of living healthy lives.”

The HSE’s Tobacco Free Ireland Programme has been working with organisations across the country to promote smoke-free environments and de-normalise smoking among adults and young people. Some initiatives this year include:

  • A partnership with Athletics Ireland to promote smoke-free sport at its championships and national events to help improve health and wellbeing of its membership and supporters.
  • The launch of Limerick City and County Council’s #NotAroundUs initiative to promote smoke free environments throughout the county and dernormalise smoking for young people in playground and other family spaces.
  • Smoke-free GAA clubs, smoke-free matches and smoke-free GAA grounds.

Free help and advice for anyone who wants to quit smoking is available from the HSE’s Quit service.

Freephone: 1800 201 203
Freetext: QUIT to 50100
Get started on:

Find local HSE QUIT support groups on or by calling the QUIT team
Tweet the QUIT team @hseQUITteam
Join the Facebook page


For more information or to arrange an interview with Dr Paul Kavanagh, Public Health Medicine and Advisor to the HSE Tobacco Free Ireland Programme, please contact:

HSE National Press Office

Tel: 01

Last updated on: 30 / 05 / 2019