University of  Sussex MEDIA RELEASE

The Information Office, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9RH.

Thursday March 26 1998 For immediate release


An increase in the number of teenage girls who start smoking can be attributed to the desire to appear more grown-up and attract boyfriends, not as a method of losing weight, says a report by researchers at the University of Sussex. The study of 3,500 schoolchildren reports that teenage girls are particularly susceptible to social influences concerning smoking, such as the perception that smoking is a sign of sexual maturity. Although teenagers are well aware of the dangers of smoking, current health education programmes seem to have little effect on adolescents' smoking attitudes, beliefs and behaviour. The report also makes some recommendations on effective methods of intervention for schools.

The report summarises the results of a longitudinal study by Dr Barbara Lloyd, senior research fellow in social psychology and Dr Kevin Lucas, health promotion policy analyst with East Sussex, Brighton and Hove Health Authority and visiting research fellow in health and social psychology at the University of Sussex. The study was commissioned by the Department of Health in response to growing concerns over the prevalence of smoking in teenage girls and the Department's aim of reducing smoking in pregnancy by the year 2000. The number of girls starting smoking has overtaken that of boys in recent years.

The report found a complex relationship between sexual maturity and smoking. Sexually mature boys are more likely to smoke than immature boys of any age between 11 and 16, but from the age of 14, sexually immature girls are more likely to start smoking than their sexually mature friends. "Teenage girls use smoking as a badge of maturity," says Dr Lucas. "Smoking is seen as rebellious or 'hard' which are seen as fashionable traits." Smoking is strongly linked with body image, but concerns about thinness were minor factors in smoking intake, a contradiction of the popular belief that girls use smoking to lose weight.

The report showed that both non-smokers and smokers perceived smokers as more "rebellious" and fun, as opposed to non-smokers who were perceived as "sensible" and "quiet". This may indicate that intervention techniques should address smokers and non-smokers differently. Anti-smoking techniques aimed at smokers might seek to enhance the desirability of social representations associated with the nonsmoker identity, and take different approaches at age 11, 13 and 15 as the teenagers develop.

The results of the study have also been published in the authors' book, Smoking in Adolescence: Images and Identities, published by Routledge.


For further information please contact Dr Kevin Lucas on (01273) 403543 or (01273) 678035 or Laura Miles, Information Office, tel: (01273) 606755 ext. 4353, fax: (01273) 678335, e-mail:

This file produced by USIS - 26th March 1998