Girls more likely to smoke than boys

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Teenage girls are twice as likely to take up smoking as boys of the same age, a six-year study of young people in the north of England shows.

Teenage girls are twice as likely to take up smoking as boys of the same age, a six-year study of young people in the north of England shows.

Researchers found 31 per cent of girls aged 15 and 16 were regular smokers compared with 16 per cent of boys.

The popularity of smoking among girls has puzzled researchers because, among adults, more men than women smoke. The rates in both sexes were described as "worryingly high" by the Economc and Social Research Council (ESRC) which funded the study.

The earlier an individual starts smoking, the greater the risk of lung cancer and the younger they are likely to develop heart disease.

Young smokers also have more respiratory infections, more coughs, more stress on their hearts, are less fit, and have a higher risk of strokes, the researchers said.

The study of 1,134 teenagers who attended schools in the Leeds area showed that differences between the sexes appeared in the early teens and persisted into the mid-teens.

A previous study in the same area involving many of the same teenagers found that girls in the 13-14 age group were twice as likely to be smokers as boys, 16 per cent compared with 8 per cent. But, among younger children aged 11 to 12, equal proportions of boys and girls smoked.

Mark Connor of the School of Psychology at the University of Leeds, who led the study, said: "The pointers to someone in the first year of secondary school taking up smoking by the age of 15-16 are being a girl and having smoked when they were younger." Other factors were those who lived with smokers, had friends who smoked or who had a positive attitude to smoking.

He added: "It is not clear from our results why girls are more likely to smoke. This is an area we would like to devote more attention to in the future."

One possible explanation was that girls mature earlier than boys and are quicker to adopt adult habits. Amanda Sandford of the anti-smoking charity, Ash, said: "Girls grow up sooner and tend to go out with older boys. So they pick up more adult habits. But boys catch up by the late teens."

Among adults, 27 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women smoke. The gap between the sexes has been narrowing for a decade as smoking rates among men have come down.

The study, which began in 1998, involved seven visits to schools where anti-smoking campaigns were concentrated.

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