A SCHEME that gave nicotine patches to pupils to help them quit smoking has been hailed a success.
In the project, which started in four schools in County Durham 18 months ago, 28 out of 103 pupils successfully gave up.
The scheme for 12 to 17-year-olds was set up after a roadshow to warn of the risks of drugs and addiction. Organisers were struck by the number of pupils - mainly girls aged 13 or 14 - who later asked for help. Some were smoking as many as 20 cigarettes a day.
Figures from the anti-smoking group ASH suggested 25 per cent of girls and 16 per cent of 15-year-old boys smoke regularly.
Ian Miller, smoking cessation co-ordinator for County Durham Primary Care Trust, said: "This project has been a big success and we hope it will continue to develop. Not all young smokers are suitable for nicotine patch treatment, so each case must be assessed individually.
"If a pupil needs it, the nurse will issue a voucher to obtain patches, gum, lozenges or oral microtabs at the pharmacist."
The success rate among girls rose from nearly 22 per cent in the first year to nearly 35 per cent in the second. The boys' success rate was lower this year, at just under 17 per cent, but participation increased.
In the scheme, nurses are not obliged to tell pupils' parents they received treatment. Moya White, school nurse at Greencroft school in Stanley, said:
"If we feel they can take on board the advice, we can give patches without parental consent, but we encourage them to tell their parents and get their families involved."
In Leicestershire, a campaign is being launched in six schools. Pupils smoking more than five cigarettes a day could get a letter from the school nurse to the pupil's GP to prescribe patches.
Similar projects are operating in parts of London, West Midlands and Scotland, but the Department of Health said it does not know how prevalent they are.
Amanda Sandford, a research manager for ASH, said: "Anti-smoking campaigns are often geared towards adults so we are happy for schools to be doing this."
But Martin Callanan, Tory MEP for the North East, said: "I think it is a bad example to other children. They will think they don't need to worry if they start smoking because they can be cured with a patch."