Smoking among middle-class women in England has risen by 25% in ten years – study

The number of younger, middle-class women who smoke has increased by 25% in the past decade research.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Britain, responsible for 76,000 deaths every year. Experts from UCL examined data from almost 200,000 adult participants in the Smoking Toolkit Study, a monthly survey of adults in England. Just over 44,000 women were between 18 and 45 years old.

The study, funded by Cancer Research UK and published in BMC Medicine, found that while the overall number of smokers fell between 2013 and 2023, the proportion of women aged 18 to 45 from a higher socio-economic background who smoked increased from 12% to 15%.

In contrast, there was a decline in the proportion of disadvantaged women of the same age who smoked, from 29% to 22%, while smoking rates among men from all backgrounds remained stable.

Dr. Sarah Jackson, the lead author of the study, said: “We don’t know why younger affluent women smoke more. Future studies could investigate whether social media can increase acceptance in this cohort, or whether they are less able to use strategies or support to prevent relapse in the long term… We need to do a lot more research to find out.”

The authors find that most smokers now mainly use rolls, with 54% of adults of all ages using mainly or exclusively hand-rolled cigarettes, up from 42% in 2013. The trend was particularly notable among female smokers aged 18 to 45 years, where the The share who say they smoke mainly or exclusively hand-rolled cigarettes increased from 41% to 61%.

The report said financial pressures may have hit women harder, with greater job losses during the pandemic and an increased burden of housework and childcare. This likely contributed to the reduction in smoking rates among women from less privileged social classes and prompted those who did not quit to switch to hand-rolled products as a way to afford to continue smoking, the authors concluded.

Vaping among all adults aged 18 to 45 has more than tripled in the decade to 2023, with most of the increase occurring after 2021. By 2023, one in five adults under the age of 45 would be vaping, the study calculated.

a new report of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has called for more action to prevent vaping among children.

The RCP study suggested restrictions on the promotion of e-cigarettes on social media, making e-cigarettes less affordable to young people and less attractive due to plain packaging.

John Waldron, a senior policy and public affairs officer at Action on Smoking and Health, said the UCL research showed there can be no complacency about the continued decline in smoking rates.

He said: “It is particularly worrying that the increases have been seen in women of childbearing age, because smoking during pregnancy threatens the lives not only of women but also their unborn children.”

Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at King’s College London, said: “Researchers and doctors have worked tirelessly over the decades to educate people about the harms of smoking tobacco, and to a large extent we have been successful. It is therefore concerning that we are seeing an increase in smoking in any social demographic.”

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She added: “Smoking in any form is extremely deadly. We must act quickly to understand why this group of women in particular is putting their health at risk, despite all the evidence.”

On Tuesday, MPs voted 383 to 67 in favor of the Prime Minister’s bill to make it illegal for anyone born in 2009 or later to buy tobacco products in Britain.

Dr. Claire Fuller, national medical director in primary care, said: “Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable disease and death in Britain, and we know that smoking reduces fertility in women and increases the risk of complications during pregnancy.

“As NHS staff across the country see more and more young people needing treatment for the effects of vaping, recent measures to crack down on child-friendly marketing and illegal sales are desperately needed.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are taking bold action to create the world’s first smoke-free generation, with MPs voting the Tobacco and Vaping Bill through to committee stage. We have also doubled funding for stop smoking services to almost £140 million a year.”