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Increase in smoking among more affluent young women in past decade

Increase in smoking among more affluent young women in past decade

Smoking rates have increased among more affluent young women over the past 10 years, a UK study has found.

Data collected through a monthly survey that has involved almost 200,000 adults showed an increase in smoking prevalence from 12% to 15% in more socially advantaged women aged 18 to 45 years between 2013 and 2023.

By comparison, rates of smoking for women in the most disadvantaged groups while higher to start with fell steadily over the same period from 29% to 22%, researchers reported in BMC Medicine.

It comes as MPs backed proposals to ban anyone born after 2009 from buying cigarettes in a bid to create a ‘smoke-free generation’.

Among adults overall, smoking fell over the 10 year-period looked at although the decline flattened during the pandemic, the researcher noted.

Smoking rates among the most advantaged men – those that fall into the ABC1 category of the highest earners in the household being in a professional, managerial or clerical job – remained stable over the past decade, the study found.

The researchers also found an increase over 10 years in smokers mainly using hand-rolled cigarettes with the rise greater among women aged 18 to 45 (41% to 61%), with men of the same age showing a smaller increase (49% to 62%).

Survey results also showed that vaping prevalence among women of reproductive age more than tripled, from 5.1% to 19.7%, with the absolute increase more pronounced among the most disadvantaged groups defined as living in a household where the highest earner had a manual, semi- or unskilled job, or was unemployed.

Study lead Dr Sarah Jackson, a researchers at the University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said: ‘It is concerning to find an apparent increase in smoking among women under 45 from more advantaged social groups in England. We did not see this in all adults or in men of the same age.

‘These findings suggest this group may benefit from targeted intervention to prevent the uptake of smoking or relapse.

‘Reducing smoking is especially important among women in this age group as smoking reduces fertility and increases the chances of complications during pregnancy, miscarriage and poor infant health.’

Senior author Dr Sharon Cox added that the reasons for the increase in smoking seen in more affluent women was unclear.

‘However, it may be that financial pressures of smoking were less influential for this group.

‘Some may also have moved to cheaper hand-rolled cigarettes – a trend that was most pronounced among less advantaged female smokers, 68% of whom rolled their own cigarettes by 2023.’

The researchers also speculated that financial pressures in the last decade may have hit women harder, with higher rates of job loss during the pandemic and a greater burden of housework and childcare.

Alizee Froguel, prevention policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘We cannot afford to be complacent about the devastating harm tobacco use continues to cause across the whole of our society.

‘The Government must implement bold and robust measures to prevent people from taking up smoking, whilst ensuring that people who already smoke have access to quit tools and adequately funded cessation services.’

This article first appeared on our sister title Pulse.

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