China said on Monday the country had 15 million underage smokers -- nearly four times the total population of New Zealand -- and the number is rising.
Around 40 million of the country's 130 million children aged between 13 and 18 had tried smoking, according to a Health Ministry report on tobacco control emailed to AFP on Monday.
AdvertisementFifteen million had become addicted to tobacco, the report said.
"The number of youths in China that have tried smoking and who now smoke increases year after year," the report said, without giving any comparative figures.
"Male students are the main smokers among school children, and in big cities, the number of female students who have tried smoking or who smoke is growing."
Between 66 and 68 percent of those that had tried tobacco products had smoked their first whole cigarette before they even reached 13, according to the report, a 15 percent increase from 1998.
China has about 350 million smokers, about a quarter of its population and one-third of the world's smokers, according to official statistics.
Tobacco advertisements were partly to blame for the rising rate of young tobacco addicts, the report said, because they targeted youths by associating smoking with independence and sex appeal.
Easy access to tobacco products was also to blame, with the three top selling cigarette brands in the country costing less than five yuan (less than a dollar) a packet, the report said.
More than 90 percent of the young smokers also said they had never been refused tobacco products in shops, despite a ban on selling tobacco to under 18s.
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