The prevalence of smoking in Singapore is still among the lowest in the world, but more young people are picking up the habit.
And most of those who smoke began doing so at an early age, based on findings the Health Promotion Board (HPB) released yesterday.
To tackle this, the agency has launched a programme to rope in students to get their peers to stay healthy and smoke-free.
HPB said smoking prevalence here - at 14 per cent in 2010 - was among the lowest in the world. In 2010, smoking prevalence globally stood at about 24 per cent.
But the percentage of smokers aged 18 to 29 was 16 per cent for that year, an increase from 12 per cent in 2004. This was based on figures from the 2010 National Health Survey.
The survey also found that about 80 per cent of smokers picked up the habit before they turned 21 years old.
Among Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students, about 13 per cent are regular smokers, with more being "experimental smokers", said HPB.
HPB's research also showed that the rise in number of young smokers can be attributed to factors such as peer pressure and the misconception that smoking is cool.
This means that placing an emphasis on young adults is important and that there is a need to "de-normalise" smoking among them, said Mr Ang Hak Seng, chief executive of HPB.
"If I can address them (young adults) effectively, I can actually reduce a big percentage of youth who might become smokers," he said.
In line with this, a health-engagement programme was officially launched yesterday by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at ITE College West, in conjunction with World No Tobacco Day.
The programme was rolled out to all three ITE colleges, and will be extended to all polytechnics by 2014 and universities by 2015.
As part of the programme, a health alliance will be formed between HPB and student councils, to encourage young people to embrace healthy habits and a smoke-free lifestyle through projects led by students.
Through the programme, HPB aims to cut down the percentage of young adult smokers under 30 years old to 14 per cent - a reduction of two percentage points.
Mr Ang said youth also tend to ignore anti-smoking messages if they come from figures of authority, and highlighted the important role played by youth advocates.
HPB's youth health-advocacy group will work with members of student councils to start health-promotion projects in schools, as well as in the neighbouring community.
Each project will receive up to $1,000 in funding. There are seven projects being funded now.
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