'Smoking Is an Addiction of Childhood and Not an Adult Choice' the Smoking Ban May Have Marked a Change in Attitudes to the Habit, but Teenage Girls Are Continuing to Embrace Cigarettes in Large Numbers. Health Editor Madeleine Brindley Looks at Why Teenage Girls Smoke

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Byline: Madeleine Brindley

FROM being something that most adults indulged in throughout the 20th century, smoking is increasingly becoming a social taboo. Smokers have been relegated to pavements and street corners following the introduction of the smoking ban almost three years ago and the tobacco industry now faces further restrictions on advertising and where cigarettes can be sold.

There is also some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the non-smoking majority is less willing than ever to put up with the smoking habits of the minority.

But while Wales may slowly be moving towards a significant cultural shift where smoking is no longer socially acceptable - even openly frowned upon - it seems that someone forgot to tell our teenage girls.

Smoking rates among teenagers have, on the whole, been declining in line with rates for adults, but for teenage girls that fall has been stubbornly small.

Smoking among teenage boys fell between 1998 and 2006 from 21% of 15 to 16-year-old boys smoking to 12%.

Rates have not fallen at the same pace for girls - in 1998 29% of 15 to 16-year-old girls smoked; in 2006 23% were smokers.

The reason teenage girls continue to become addicted tobacco every year in Wales is complex and has as much to do with their role models - both parental and celebrity - as peer pressure about how they act and look.

Tanya Buchanan, chief executive of Ash Wales, said: "Young girls are storing up major health problems for themselves in future years. They are severely damaging their health, with smoking linked to a range of chronic diseases including heart disease, lung cancer and liver disease."

Dr Tony Jewell, Wales' chief medical officer, said: "We know that young girls of this age are smoking at a higher rate than boys. The question is why? "A lot can be traced to targeting by tobacco manufacturers who appeal to young girls who want to appear sophisticated by using product placement - although it is becoming less popular, films stars, pop idols and fashion stars are pictured smoking.

"And the tobacco industry is quite happy about the link between smoking and weight."

Research by Dr Barbara Lloyd and Dr Kevin Lucas at the University of Sussex, suggested in 1998 that teenage girls started smoking in an effort to appear more grown up and attract boyfriends.

They said that smoking is strongly linked with body image, but concerns about thinness were minor factors in smoking intake, contradicting the popular belief that girls use smoking to lose weight.

Dr Lucas said: "Teenage girls use smoking as a badge of maturity. Smoking is seen as rebellious or hard, which are seen as fashionable traits."

And a Scottish study of teenage girls found that smoking was part of an image cultivated by the girls who were seen as leaders of their groups. Smoking went along with wearing short skirts, jewellery and make-up.

But a US study found that starting to diet appeared to double the odds that a teenage girl will begin smoking.

Mildred Maldonado-Molina, the lead author of the University of Florida study, said: "Dieting was a significant predictor of initiation of regular smoking among girls.

"The link may be down to the fact that nicotine is a known appetite suppressant - and girls who consistently dieted were even more likely to smoke. …