Despite years of warnings, more young women are drinking too much and, for the first time, the proportion who smoke has risen.

Glenda Cooper, Social Affairs Correspondent, looks at why bright young women are acquiring bad habits.

Every year since 1972 smoking has been on the decline in Britain. But this year for the first time young women are bucking the trend. The Office for National Statistics warned yesterday that smoking amongst women - and particularly young women - is again on the rise.

Coupled with that, large amounts of young women are now drinking more than the recommended maximum amount of alcohol a week. Whereas the Department of Health has recommended 14 units as a "safe" level since 1984, the numbers of women drinking above that level has increased by half as much again.

Health campaigners are worried that young women are increasingly pursuing habits which damage their health. A greater amount of disposable income - particularly among single women, those working and women under 25 - means they can indulge themselves.

The results of the General Household Survey found that while cigarette smoking has risen by 2 per cent amongst women generally (the reverse was true of men) among the 16- to 19-year-olds the increase was 5 per cent and among the 25- to 34-year-olds 4 per cent.

The ONS findings reflect those of the Health Education Authority which has warned that lung cancer deaths are set to overtake breast cancer as the biggest killer of women. The authority said yesterday that it is launching an anti-smoking campaign which will focus on women, particularly teenagers. A third of 15-year-olds were smoking and the evidence suggested that they are taking the habit onwards.

"We are very concerned," said a spokesman for the HEA. "Why young women are smoking more is the million dollar question but we're trying to find out." He said the media had played a role, especially in films in which smoking was associated with glamour and power.

A spokeswoman for ASH - Action on Smoking and Health - said that there was no single explanation for the rise. "But tobacco companies are spending pounds 100m on advertising whereas the Government are spending pounds 10m on anti- smoking education."

Both more men and women are recorded as drinking over sensible levels in the GHS but the significant increase is amongst women and again the largest increase is among younger women - a quarter of 18- to 24-year- olds drink more than they should.

Earlier this year it was reported that the number of women drinking above recommended levels rose by 50 per cent between 1984 and 1994, and a study by Alcohol Concern said that 500,000 women now drink at "very risky" levels - defined as more than 50 units a week (or 25 pints of ordinary beer or six bottles of wine).

Living in Britain: Preliminary Results from the 1996 General Household Survey; Stationery Office; pounds 10.

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