During yesterday morning's rush hour, the Herald Sun saw dozens of teens in school uniform smoking at Flinders St Station. Students as young as 13 said they were aware of the dangers of smoking.
One 15-year-old boy said he needed a fag before school to "wake me up in the morning".
A 17-year-old schoolgirl, who said she had been smoking for nine years, said: "If you smoke, you smoke. "You're not going to change your mind just because someone tells you not to."
Several teens said their parents were aware they smoked. "My parents know and aren't happy about it, but what can they do? Boys will be boys," a 15-year-old said.
Another boy, 16, used his father as an example. "My dad's 63 and he's been smoking since he was 15 and he's doing fine, so I'll be all right," he said. It is not illegal for teenagers to smoke, and new figures show that almost 42,000 Victorian students aged from 12-17 puff their way through more than one million cigarettes a week.
Teenagers told the Herald Sun yesterday that shocking pictures of diseased organs on cigarette packs did not always deter them.
"You have to smoke a lot of ciggies for that sort of stuff to happen to you," one teen said.
Students were from inner-city schools including Melbourne Girls' College, St Kevin's College, Mac.Robertson Girls' High School, St Catherine's School, Christian Brothers College and the Academy of Mary Immaculate.
The Herald Sun saw a group of three young girls in school uniform sitting on the Flinders St Station steps, dividing a pack of cigarettes they had just bought.
Many students said they had no trouble buying cigarettes and were rarely asked for identification.
The Tobacco Act states it is an offence to sell tobacco products to people aged under 18. Quit Victoria has called on the Brumby Government to impose age limits on smoking. The smoking rate among teens is the lowest since 1985, when Quit first surveyed young smokers. But Quit acting director Suzie Stillman said 42,000 was still far too many.
"Kids think they're invincible," Ms Stillman said.
"Some of the things they look at and hear about smoking, they believe won't apply to them."
Last year, the Federal Government launched a $25 million National Tobacco Youth Campaign in a bid to discourage the teenager smokers.
Convenience store proprietors who sell cigarettes to teens face fines up to $5200. But the Tobacco Act is silent on the age of people smoking, a Department of Human Services spokesman said. Cigarette vendors in and around Flinders St Station said they were vigilant about checking for ID when students came in asking for cigarettes. Ms Stillman said fancy tobacco packaging and point-of-sale advertising lured teenagers to cigarettes.
"Young people are the bread and butter of the smoking industry -- they are the next generation of addicted smokers," she said.
Bede Fennell from British American Tobacco Australia said the company didn't market its products to children.
"BATA strongly believes that children should not smoke and that smoking should only be for adults who understand the real risks of serious disease associated with it," Mr Fennell said.
All schools interviewed by the Herald Sun had comprehensive anti-smoking awareness programs in place.
Christian Brothers College principal Gerald Bain-King said his school had a no-smoking policy that applied when students were outside school grounds in uniform.
"The reality is we can't send our staff around the public transport network to monitor our students' smoking habits," Mr Bain-King said. "But when we receive complaints we always attempt to identify the students and follow them up with our discipline procedures."
Report by Dina Rosendorff for the Australian Herald Sun 22/August/ 2011