HUNDREDS of children take up smoking in Bury every year, shocking new research has found.

Analysis by the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) revealed that almost 380 of the borough's young people annually pick up the habit ­— equivalent to more than one child every day.

Across the North West the total figure for new smokers aged under 16 tops more than 13,000 each year.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “Two thirds of the 13,000 children who start smoking every year will turn into regular smokers, risking a lifetime of addiction and years of disease before a premature death.

"Every year over 12,000 people die from smoking in the North West, and smoking is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest."

Smoking disproportionately affects some children more than others, ASH's research highlighted.

Young people from poorer areas are more likely take up smoking than those from more well off districts.

And children who grow up in smoking households are almost three times as likely to become smokers themselves.

Prevalence of smoking among adults in Bury is above rates for both the UK and North West ­— with almost one in six adults in the borough being smokers.

Bury Times: Graph from charity, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), showing how tobacco regulations have led to a decline in youth smokingGraph from charity, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), showing how tobacco regulations have led to a decline in youth smoking

The startling findings from ASH come as the sale of menthol cigarettes ­— dubbed "child-friendly" by the charity ­— is banned in the UK today.

Ms Arnott said she believed the ban on menthol will "help bring to an end this public health disaster".

She added: “Menthol cigarettes are a child-friendly starter product because menthol makes it easier to smoke and to inhale the smoke deep into the lungs.

"Menthol smokers are also more likely to become heavily addicted and find it harder to quit.

"That’s why the Government concluded a ban on menthol was justified, it’s just a shame it’s taken so long."

The move has been widely welcomed, including by ex-smoker Sue Mountain who first got hooked on menthol cigarettes, falsely believing them to be "healthier".

After years of smoking, Ms Mountain was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer and had to undergo laser treatment in 2012.

Unfortunately, he cancer returned in 2017 and she required radiotherapy every day for four weeks.

She said: "I went onto menthol cigarettes many years ago when I had my first child, Zoe.

"I found it very difficult to stop smoking, and I thought that this was a safer choice.

"It had to be, it was menthol and menthol is used for medicinal purposes.

"Since the cheap cigarette market did not have menthol as a cheaper tobacco, I reverted back to ordinary cigarettes but always felt guilty that I wasn’t taking the “healthier” option.

Bury Times: Sales of menthol cigarettes are banned in the UK from todaySales of menthol cigarettes are banned in the UK from today

She added: “I’m so pleased the UK government are introducing the menthol ban because of menthol being associated with medicine and that it does the body good.

"I believe these types of products were giving the message that they were less harmful just by having menthol associated with them.

"I believe many smokers will have died or have suffered from smoking related diseases because they wrongly believed menthol was a healthier choice.”

The ban on menthol is the latest in a long line of tobacco regulations introduced by the UK Government.

It follows a similar ban on all other cigarette flavourings which came in to force three years ago.

These measures are said to have resulted in a rapid decline in UK youth smoking from nearly one in five at the turn of the century to one in twenty in 2018.

A recent study further showed that ending sales of menthol tobacco products is likely to significantly reduce the numbers of children starting smoking, as well as help those already smoking to quit.

Newsagent John McClurey said he was glad tobacco sales were continuing to fall, adding: "I’d much rather sell birthday cards for people who are living longer than sympathy cards for people who have died as a result of their smoking."