Around 10% of children under the age of 16 in Northern Ireland now smoke, the province's health minister has revealed.
And Michael McGimpsey, the UUP representative for South Belfast, said addicts as young as 11 are taking up the habit after experiencing peer pressure.
It comes as the minister considers whether to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchases to 18, in line with the rest of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
He said: "The reasons why young people take up smoking despite the overwhelming evidence of harm it causes are complex and varied.
"Too many lives are lost prematurely each year due to the use of tobacco and as a society I believe we need to reassess our unhealthy attitude towards its use."
Mr McGimpsey added that parents who set a bad example by smoking are partly to blame.
Stormont health committee chairwoman Iris Robinson said the ban on smoking in public places will eventually have an effect, and added that increasing the cost of a packet of cigarettes through taxation "represents one of the most effective control measures".
Tobacco is the single biggest cause of death and illness in Northern Ireland, and causes a third of cancer fatalities, and around 2,300 deaths each year in total.