Almost one in three 15-year- old French girls smokes cigarettes, according to the new survey. Anyone who passes a lycee or college can vouch for the accuracy of the report.
Smoking is banned in class but many schools have given up enforcing the rule in the playground or outside. "It's hard enough to stop them in the classrooms," said the deputy head of a lycee in the eastern suburbs of Paris. "If we tried to enforce the rule outside, we would have a riot on our hands."
A similar trend has been seen in most European countries, including Britain, but the tendency seems to be especially pronounced in France.
Sociologists and health workers say it seems to be part of a new spirit of independence and willingness to challenge authority on the part of young French women.
The attraction to tobacco is surprising and depressing, given the publicity on the dangers of smoking and the apparent obsession of young women with their health and appearance.
Lucette Barthelemy, head of a health education college in Lorraine, says this paradox is rooted in the teenage psyche. "All our advice is based on health considerations. Don't drink, don't smoke, don't take drugs ... But adolescents look at things differently and they hate to be told what not to do. They don't want to be in good health so much as to feel good about themselves," she said.
Other health experts say the trend to smoking among young women is also linked to the fact that French girls are less interested in sport than boys. Among both boys and girls, smoking is concentrated more densely among those who play no sport.
Smoking is most common among teenage girls in the poorer suburbs, where it is almost universal. But it is also increasingly popular among wealthier teenagers.
"We are facing an explosion of smoking-related illnesses in years to come," said Gilles Bruckner, vice-president of the High Committee on Public Health. "Women are more at risk from smoking than men." He said this was obviously so during pregnancy but there was also evidence of adverse effects from combining nicotine and the contraceptive pill.Reuse content