SHOCK new figures show that Sunderland is among one of the worst areas in the country for youngsters experimenting with alcohol and smoking.
A league table released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre revealed that the North East is top of the charts when it comes to children aged 11 to 15 trying booze and smoking.
Health bosses are blaming the Government for not protecting the young by introducing a minimum price for alcohol and bringing in plain packaging for cigarettes.
Almost 7,600 pupils were surveyed as part of the research across 254 schools last year.
It found that 51 per cent of North East pupils said they had tried alcohol, whereas the figure was only 31 per cent in London.
Colin Shevills, director of the North East alcohol office Balance, said: “The figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre demonstrate once again that the Government’s alcohol strategy is failing.
“It is failing at the expense of public health and, in this case, the wellbeing of children in the region.
“Pocket money prices, widespread availability and heavy marketing have established drinking as a social norm and it is having a harmful effect.
“Here in the North East, we have the highest rate of under-18 alcohol-specific hospital admissions and the highest rate of under-18s in alcohol treatment.
“Only a week ago, the Government shelved plans to introduce a minimum unit price, a measure which would have helped protect vulnerable younger drinkers who are more likely to drink cheap alcohol.
“Despite Government and industry suggestions to the contrary, the evidence base behind the introduction of a minimum unit price is strong and getting stronger.”
The North East also tops the table for the number of children who have tried smoking, with as many as 30 per cent lighting up compared with 22 per cent in the capital, the West Midlands and East Midlands.
Ailsa Rutter, director of anti-smoking group Fresh, said: “This survey shows that smoking in North East children needs tackling further, with the number of 11-15 year olds who have tried smoking the highest in the country at 30 per cent – although the number who smoke regularly has actually dropped down to six per cent.
“There’s still some way to go, as with 9,000 North-East children taking up smoking each year, there are still far too many children becoming addicted to this deadly product.”