MANY children are still trying their first cigarette at the age of just 13 -- while thousands of other youngsters are exposed to second-hand smoke at home because of their parents' habit.
The worrying findings emerged in a new report on smoking trends on the island of Ireland showing how difficult it is to get adults to quit.
While progress has been made in reducing smoking in pregnant women, the declines in the habit in children living here and in Northern Ireland are "less convincing than those observed in adults".
The report -- 'A Tobacco-free Future' -- was carried out by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland and the Tobacco-free Research Institute of Ireland.
The findings showed:
* The proportion of children here admitting they tried their first cigarette at 13 or younger has fallen from 60pc about a decade ago but it remains high at 48.9pc.
* Disadvantaged children are more likely to live in households with smoking adults.
* Nine-year-olds living in the lowest-income families here were twice as likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke in the home as their peers in the best-off households.
* Between one in five and one in six nine-year-old children live in a home where people light up around them.
* 11.9pc of children here aged 10-17 are current smokers, even though the proportion of this group saying they took up the habit has fallen from 36pc to 27pc between 2006 and 2010.
* Smoking during pregnancy has fallen by a third over the last decade. But levels remain high at around 17-18pc in mums-to-be.
* Infants living with a smoking mother are at increased risk of illness in the first nine months of life. The prevalence of asthma among children exposed to second-hand smoke was significantly higher than in children in cigarette-free homes.
Prof Luke Clancy of the Tobacco Free Institute of Ireland said he was concerned about the number of children paying the price for their parents' habit by breathing in second-hand smoke.
"Despite concerns that the smoking ban in workplaces would result in increases in the exposure of children to second-hand smoke in the home, the evidence. . . shows that this has not been the case," he said.
"Evidence from the North shows small but significant declines in children's exposure to second-hand smoke exposure in the home over time.
"Parental smoking behaviours are so significant in the health and development of children on this island. Smoking in pregnancy was associated with adverse outcomes for newborn babies, including low birthweight," he added.
"GP attendances for chest and ear infections among infants were higher among mothers who smoked in the first nine months of their child's life.
"Among older children, both active smoking and second-hand smoke were significant in terms of patterns of childhood asthma," Prof Clancy said.
The decline in smoking can be attributed to the range of measures introduced in the past decade, including the ban on lighting up in the workplace as well as regulation of vending machines and pack sizes, and the law removing cigarettes from point-of-sale displays in shops.