Profile of the habit

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Seventy per cent of UK smokers who have tried to stop have failed at least twice - strong testament both to the addictive qualities of tobacco and the knowledge that it does human beings no good.

The latest study, published to mark No Smoking Day, produced one curious piece of new information. People in Scotland and the North of England smoke more than men and women in the South because they simply find it harder to stop.

In the South-east around 25 per cent of people smoke, compared with 37 per cent in Scotland and 30 per cent in the North.

Dr Robin West, author of the report Escaping the Nicotine Trap, paints a picture of a virtuous circle in the South, with ex-smokers and non-smokers increasingly creating a non-smoking culture, and a vicious circle in the North, where other smokers reinforce the habit and there is less pressure to stop.

Experts say that people smoke because they are addicted, they like it and they cannot cope with life without nicotine. Women say it helps them to stay slim - quitters tend to put on weight initially. Young people smoke because they think it is glamorous or dissident or both.

In the UK 28 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women continue to smoke. Statistics published last week show there was little change in cigarette consumption in 1993 compared with 1992. It now looks unlikely that the Government will achieve the target of bringing smoking down to 20 per cent by 2000.

Already a target date set in 1990 - to reduce teenage smoking by half by 1994 - has passed and been well missed.