High-flying graduates seduced by smoke signals

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The Independent Online
A combination of stress and the use by the media of glamorous imagery prompts young, well-educated people to take up smoking, according to researchers.

Many young high-flyers take up smoking when they reach the first rung on the long ladder to success but, once hooked, they are less likely than other smokers to quit.

A survey published today by the recruitment agency, Reed Graduates, identifies students and recent graduates as "the new high-risk group of persistent smokers" - and those established in the workforce as most at risk.

Twenty per cent of students in their final year of university are smokers, a figure which drops slightly, to 19 per cent, among those who have graduated but are yet to find work. Once graduates have started work in their first job, the figure rises to 23 per cent. Arts graduates are more likely than maths and science graduates to carry on smoking after they have finished studying.

Almost half of the graduates smoking in their first job have no intention of quitting. While the percentage of those who smoke but wish to give up is exactly in line with the national average among final year students and graduates who have not yet found work (68 per cent), only 54 per cent of those graduate smokers who have started work are considering giving up.

Tom Lovell, manager of Reed Graduates, commenting on the results of the survey of 961 final year undergraduates and recent graduates, said: "There seems to be some backlash against healthy living amongst recent graduates. You only have to wander into a pub in a busy working area to see that smoking is a widely accepted social prop amongst this group."

Stress, he added, could be the key factor. "Starting a new job can be stressful, and if some of your new fellow employees are smokers, `group cigarette breaks' can seem an all too easy way of gaining acceptance."

The findings counter previous assumptions that smoking is associated with unskilled manual workers, low self-esteem, poor education and low awareness of the habit's harmful effects. Ninety-six per cent of graduates said they were well aware that smoking has a great deal or fair amount of effect on health and almost all of those who smoke accept the right of colleagues to work in a smoke-free environment.

Furthermore, they believe smoking could damage not only their health but their career prospects. Forty-two per cent feel that, all things being equal, an employer would choose to recruit a non-smoker rather than a smoker.

Another survey, by the Health and Education Authority (HEA), also published today, blames editors of men's magazines and style titles for the prevalence of smoking in young people. Loaded and The Face were singled out as the worst offenders. Between them, the two magazines carried 43 images of smoking over a three-month period.

The HEA survey set out to find out how young people - the only age group for which levels of smoking appear to be increasing - are affected by smoking imagery. It found that no amount of editorialising about the dangers of smoking could counter the damage done by seductive pictures of models with cigarettes, which are "read" on an emotional level.

The unpublished HEA Adult Tracking Survey 1996 shows that smoking in young women has increased by more than 5 per cent between 1994 and 1996.

Young women, in particular, acknowledged in the survey that they are influenced by glossy fashion photography featuring cigarettes which they linked with positive characteristics such as individuality, self-assertion and power. Shots of models smoking at parties were found to be "very influential" for young people, validating smoking as a normal part of everyday life.

Both types of imagery are more likely to be featured in prestigious broadsheet newspapers and style publications, favoured by graduates, than in tabloid newspapers.