Children trying smoking 'at lowest'
The number of children trying cigarettes has dipped to the lowest level on record, new figures suggest.
One in five pupils aged 11 to 15 said they have tried smoking, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) found.
The NHS statistics authority said t his is the lowest level recorded since the school pupil survey began in 1982.
The research also suggested that y oungsters attitudes towards smoking, drinking and taking drugs are "considerably" healthier than a decade ago.
The prevalence of such habits among school children drastically dipped between 2003 and 2013, according to the HSCIC.
In 2003, 42% of children polled said they had lit up at least once in the past.
Just 3% of pupils admitted to being regular smokers last year compared to 9% in 2003.
The survey, which involved 5,000 pupils in 174 schools across England, also showed that almost one in 10 youngsters (9%) polled in 2013 said they had drunk alcohol in the last week compared to a quarter in 2003.
And 6% of those questioned in 2013 said they had used illegal drugs in the past month compared to 12% a decade earlier, the HSCIC said.
Commenting on the figures, Deborah Arnott chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said: "The Government target was to get smoking in 15-year-olds down to 12% by 2015 - by 2013 it's only two thirds of that amount.
"What made the difference? Government action including banning tobacco advertising, putting large health warnings on packs and making all enclosed public places smoke-free.
"But more needs to be done and plain standardised tobacco packs are the obvious next step. Parliament and public back the policy, now the Government must resist pressure from the tobacco industry and its front groups and make it happen.
"Every day's delay means hundreds more children start smoking taking the first step towards addiction and premature death.
"Some people have been worried that electronic cigarettes could be a gateway into smoking for young people.
"These figures show that has not happened so far. But we need to keep monitoring use in young people, and make sure advertising and promotion of electronic cigarettes doesn't glamorise their use."
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: "It is encouraging to see that progress is being made to protect young people against this deadly addiction.
"But we cannot ignore the fact that the health of 100,000 young people in England is still being damaged by the regular use of these potentially lethal products.
"The Government needs to pull out all the stops to reduce the numbers of smokers further by making standardised packaging law. Every day of delay is allowing more young people to take up this toxic habit."
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, added: " It is always welcome news when evidence suggests that smoking rates among children are decreasing.
"However, with 22% of children still saying that they have tried smoking, we need to do more to ensure that we continue to reduce the detrimental damage it has on their health.
"We are at a pivotal time when Government has a real chance to help protect our children from the tobacco industry.
"As Government decide whether to introduce two of the most important pieces of legislation of our time - to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products and to ban smoking in cars when children are present - we urge them to listen to the overwhelming support and implement them at the soonest possible time."
Martin Dockrell, tobacco control programme lead at Public Health England, said: "With smoking rates among young people aged 15 at an all-time low of 8%, Public Health England's ambition for a tobacco free generation by 2025 is within reach.
"What we need now is to line up our plans across Government for the final push against tobacco, making the harms from smoking a thing of the past."