A SURVEY of North-East smokers shows the average age they started was 15.

The findings also reveal that North-East adult smokers are desperate for their children to avoid following in their footsteps, with 86 per cent saying more needs to be done to prevent children from getting hooked.

Yet research in County Durham by campaign group Fresh suggested that some parents give cigarettes to teenagers.

The study also showed that:

● Eighty-six per cent of smokers say the North-East needs to do more to prevent children from starting to smoke;

● Ninety-two per cent of smokers say they regret starting smoking;

● Fifty-two per cent of smokers say their children nag them to stop smoking.

Ailsa Rutter, the director of Fresh, said: “It is an appalling fact that most smokers start as children. This clearly shows that addiction to smoking is not an adult choice but our ultimate childhood addiction.

“The tobacco giants have huge marketing budgets and target young adults through social networking sites like Facebook and at major music festivals to create a buzz.”

Dr Robert Allcock, from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Gateshead, said: “Becoming addicted to cigarettes reduces a person’s life expectancy by 12 years. Few parents want their children to suffer this harm. A civilised society should not allow public health to be undermined by influence from an industry which knowingly sells a product that kills half of its customers.”

In the North-East, six per cent of boys and 14 per cent of girls aged 11 to 15 smoke at least one cigarette a week.

Dr Sue Lewis, from Durham University, said she was shocked after her research in a deprived area of east Durham showed that teenagers were often given cigarettes by their parents.

In a separate study in a semi-rural part of west Durham, a group of teenagers told her that one of their fathers supplied the entire group with cigarettes.