Why Girls Smoke

For many adults, smoking was a permitted indulgence that persisted throughout the 20th century. Now however, smoking cigarettes has become a social vulgarity: a kind of taboo. Today's smokers have to hide their habit by sneaking puffs in a bathroom or lurking in alleyways along with their forbidden cancer sticks. The tobacco industry has been forced to place restrictions on advertising and cigarette sales are restricted to only a few venues. The non-smoking public has become unwilling to put up with smoke and smokers.

Peer Pressure

Meantime, in Wales for instance, smoking rates have declined within the general public, but the rate of teenaged girls who smoke remains about the same. The smoking rate for 16 year-old teenaged boys in Wales fell from 21%-12% between 1998 and 2006, but the same has not been true for teenaged girls in this country. In 1998, the rate of smoking for 16 year-old Welsh girls stood at 29% and in 2006 had gone down to only 23%. Expert posit that the reasons teen girls continue to get hooked on cigarettes has to do with celebrity and parental role models plus peer pressure relating to behavior and dress.

Ash Wales chief executive Tanya Buchanan 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.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tony Jewel, chief medical officer for Wales, comments, “We know that young girls of this age are smoking at a higher rate than boys. The question is why?"

Fashionable Traits

Research conducted in 1998 by University of Sussex scientists Dr. Barbara Lloyd and Dr. Kevin Lucas found that teenaged girls begin smoking to look older and attract boys. The researchers discovered that smoking has a strong association with body image, though they believe that being thin is only a minor factor in habitual smoking. This contradicts the long-held belief that girls smoke to lose weight. “Teenage girls use smoking as a badge of maturity. Smoking is seen as rebellious or hard, which are seen as fashionable traits,” said Lucas.

A separate Scottish study found that teenaged girls smoked to cultivate an image as leaders within their peer groups. Smoking was correlated to the wearing of short skirts, jewelry, and cosmetics.

But an American study found that initiating a weight reduction diet doubled the odds a teenaged girl would start smoking. Lead author of this University of Florida study, Mildred Maldonado-Molina stated, “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.