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Fewer women give up smoking habit than men: Health campaigners concerned over teenage girls as surveys show 25 per cent take up cigarettes by age of 15. Celia Hall reports

WOMEN are still finding it more difficult to stop smoking than men, while teenage girls are smoking more cigarettes than boys by the time they have reached the age of 13.

Latest figures, from a variety of sources, show that more men are now ex-smokers than regular smokers, with 7.1 million men and 5 million women having joined the ranks of ex-smokers.

Currently, 29 per cent of men are regular smokers, while 32 per cent have stopped; 28 per cent of women are regular smokers while only 21 per cent have stopped.

Health campaigners agree that the greatest concern surrounds young teenage girls, as 25 per cent now smoke by the time they are 15.

Katherine Evans, publicity officer for teenage smoking at the Health Education Authority, said that among the 14-16 age group, as with adults, girls are not giving up as fast as boys. At the age of 12, she said 2 per cent of both boys and girls admit to smoking cigarettes. But at 13, 9 per cent of girls and 6 per cent of boys are smoking; at 14, 15 per cent of girls and 14 per cent of boys smoke; at 15, 25 per cent of girls and 21 per cent of boys are smokers.

'This group of girls is causing particular problems. The reasons they smoke are many and varied. There is no one reason. They believe they will be thin if they smoke and have fears of weight gain if they stop. There is peer-group pressure. There is rebellion. There is easy access to cigarettes. There is tobacco advertising and they are twice as likely to smoke if one or both their parents smokes,' she said.

In one survey conducted by the Cancer Research Campaign among 2,000 11- to 18- year-olds, most girls who smoked said they did so to help them lose weight. The smokers were more likely to be moderately overweight than their non-smoking peers.

An HEA survey in the teenage magazine Just 17, published today to mark No- Smoking Day, shows that a sizeable minority still see smoking as glamorous. Only 60 per cent agreed that they would be 'unimpressed' by the picture of a supermodel smoking and 40 per cent said they would copy her.

David Pollock, director of Ash - Action for Smoking and Health - said that the latest Department of Health statistics gave some ground for encouragement. They showed that between 1990 and 1992, the number of 16- to 19-year-old women smoking had fallen from 32 per cent to 25 per cent. Men went up a percentage point, to 29 per cent.

He said that while the UK has been more successful in cutting smoking rates than most of its European partners, it still lagged behind New Zealand, where anti-smoking campaigns had brought consumption down to 1,600 grams of tobacco per year per adult, compared with 2,100 in the UK. 'But smoking is so bad in many other European countries that we should not think we are doing that well.'

Sarah Hirsch of the charity Quit said that as smoking rates increased in line with poverty, it was not surprising that women found it more difficult to stop. 'Women who are in the lower social groups may be stuck at home with no luxuries. Many tell us on the helpline that smoking is 'all they have got'.'

Quitline is on (071) 487 3000, from 9am to midnight seven days a week.

(Photograph and graphic omitted)