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A quarter of younger middle class women in the UK have taken up smoking

The number of younger middle class women in the UK who smoke has risen by up to 25 per cent over the past decade, according to new research.

by Narges Mohammadi

A study, funded by Cancer Research UK and published in BMC Medicine, found that the proportion of women aged 18-45 from higher socioeconomic backgrounds who smoked rose from 12 per cent to 15 per cent between 2013 and 2023. This was despite the overall smoking rates seeing a decline.

Women of the same age from less advantaged backgrounds, however, were found to have a decrease in smoking rates, from 29 per cent to 22 per cent. Smoking rates among men among all backgrounds remained stable.

There were also substantial increases in the proportion of women of reproductive age who vape, as well as a shift from using manufactured to hand-rolled cigarettes among those who smoke (41 per cent to 61 per cent). The report noted that financial pressures hitting young women harder could be the cause of this, as this population experienced higher rates of job loss during the pandemic and a greater load of housework and childcare.

Considering that tobacco smoking affects women’s fertility and is associated with substantial risks of adverse pregnancy outcomes, the UK study set out to explore socioeconomic trends, use of non-combustible nicotine products and quitting activity among women of reproductive age in England.

While there’s good evidence compiled on the prevalence of smoking in adult populations already, the study notes that less is known about women of reproductive age specifically.

“Understanding patterns of smoking, levels of dependence, and quitting activity in this target group and how they are changing over time can inform the development of interventions and targeting of resources,” the researchers said.

Smoking in Australia

The latest estimates of prevalence of smoking among people in Australia shows the use of electronic cigarettes and vapes has increased markedly in the last 10 years. It nearly tripled between 2019 (2.5 per cent) and 2022-2023 (7 per cent).

While there were fewer people smoking tobacco daily in 2022-2023 than ever before, at just 8.3 per cent, around half of young people aged 18 to 24 (49 per cent) had used e-cigarettes and vapes in their lifetime in 2022-2023, and one in 4 people aged 14 to 17 (28 per cent) had as well.

Use of e-cigarettes is also highest in areas with the most socioeconomic advantage.

There was a significant increase in the age in which younger females first smoked a full cigarette between 2016 (16.0 years) and 2019 (16.6 years), according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

From 2022-2023, five per cent of females aged 18-24 reported smoking cigarettes daily. That proportion increased to 8.3 per cent when asked if these females were current smokers, in general.

In Australia, tobacco use is the leading cause of cancer, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. And it’s responsible for more deaths in the country than alcohol and illicit drugs combined.

Source: Women’s Agenda

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