Smoking and vaping is to be banned at the UK’s only Army training centre for teenage recruits.
Hundreds of junior soldiers pass through the Army Foundation College (AFC) in Harrogate each year.
Its commanding officer Lt Col Richard Hall said it was “unacceptable” that “most recruits don’t smoke on arrival, yet most do by graduation”.
New recruits will be barred from smoking next week, with a complete ban on smoking and vaping on site by 2020.
In a statement, Lt Col Hall said the ban was in order to develop recruits’ health and fitness.
He added: “I hope that this will discourage smoking amongst new recruits and reverse the recent trend we’ve seen in recruits taking up the habit.”
The decision has met with broad support on Twitter, although one post described it as denying trainees “the right to choose when in a few years you will be expecting them to defend that right if called upon”.
Lt Col Hall said he “expected critics”, but the decision had been “discussed at length over many months”.
The college trains recruits between the ages of 16 and 17.
The Army’s website says it “plays a vital role in providing basic military training and developing future leadership”.
The military has a higher proportion of smokers than the civilian population.
Figures supplied by the Ministry of Defence in 2013 showed 33% of Army personnel were regular smokers. In comparison, in the same year a NHS report found 19% of adults smoked regularly.
Since then the number of civilian smokers has dropped further, with the latest NHS figures reporting 14.7% of adults smoking.
It is against the law for under 18s to buy tobacco in England and Wales, although it is not illegal to smoke under the age of 18.