A new program in Manitoba is targeting young kids in an effort to curb smoking.

The pilot project launched in Winnipeg on Monday at five schools in Point Douglas and asked Grade 5 students to make a pledge to be tobacco free.

“The intention and the hope is that they will stay smoke free until -- and hopefully afterwards -- but until Grade 12,” said Tracy Fehr, of the Manitoba Lung Association.

According to association statistics, about 20 per cent of Manitobans smoke, and peer pressure to pick up the habit kicks in as young as age 10.

“You have kids that are six years old that are starting smoking or experimenting,” said Fehr.

Smoke free child

Kayla, a Grade 5 student at Niji Mahkwa Student, has pledged to be smoke-free. (Meagan Fiddler/CBC)

The problem, according to association officials, is even worse in lower income areas, so officials launched the pilot program in Point Douglas, aiming to reach about 300 kids.

 “There are some folks that want to create new smokers,” said Sharon Blady, the province’s minister of healthy living. “We have issues with flavoured tobacco and issues with marketing.”

According to provincial officials, the youth rate of smoking has been cut in half in the last decade, but there’s still a fight to keep kids from lighting up.