Calls for plain tobacco packaging
More than 2,600 children have started smoking in Northern Ireland since last August, it has been claimed.
They developed the habit and addiction since the end of a public consultation about the future of tobacco packaging across the UK, according to Cancer Focus, an organisation which backs proposals to have packets with plain wrapping.
The children were all aged under 16.
Gerry McElwee, head of cancer prevention for Cancer Focus said the Stormont executive and government must recognise that standardised cigarette packaging will help stop young people becoming hooked on a lethal product which he claimed, kills half its users.
He added: "We demand legislation that will protect our young people from highly branded, bright coloured packs designed to glamorise tobacco.
"Every day we delay action allows the tobacco industry another opportunity to recruit the next generation of smokers."
More than 150,000 children take up smoking in the UK every year, according to Cancer Focus. Mr McElwee said a recent report claimed tobacco packs are misleading and attractive, especially to youngsters and that plain packs would help discourage them from smoking.
A majority (64%) of people in Northern Ireland supported plain packaging.
Mr McElwee said: "There is no evidence to support the claims of the tobacco industry, that plain pack, standardised packaging will bolster the illegal tobacco trade. Standardised packs would carry the same covert markings currently needed to identify illicit tobacco products."