Tobacco industry strategy to market to young women is working

Dear younger people who smoke: One question. Why?

A study from Texas suggests decades of declining prevalence of smoking is ending, and 18-to-25-year-old women are one significant reason why.

The researchers at the University of Texas Austin acknowledge that heavy smoking is still declining, but light smoking is increasing.

The study also linked smoking with depression, although it was not indicated whether smoking leads to depression, or depression leads to smoking.

Never smokers were less likely than very light smokers to report lifetime depression and past month psychological distress, less likely to binge drink or use illicit drugs, and never smokers perceived smoking to be of higher risk (Table 3). Former smokers were less likely than light smokers to have past month psychological distress, less likely to binge drink or use illicit drugs, and they perceived smoking to be of higher risk. Light and heavier smokers did not differ from very light smokers in regards to the likelihood of lifetime depression, past-month psychological distress, or past-month substance use. Light and heavier smokers, in comparison with very light smokers, perceived smoking as lower risk. For all categories, very light smoking was associated with higher risk of past month binge drinking, although the finding was not significant for light and heavier smokers.

The study said light smokers are more inclined to know the risks of smoking than heavy smokers, and yet they smoke.

And it suggests that some light smokers might be heavier smokers were it not for the high cost of cigarettes.

The economic cost of cigarettes may maintain smoking at a very light level among poor women of minority status (21). Social features of college life, including weekend partying, may promote smoking at a very light level among college women (22). Emotional distress and multiple substance misuse may serve to both initiate and maintain very light smoking (23). Perceptions that smoking is of lower risk compared with the perceptions of current nonsmokers, reinforced by perceptions of fewer signs of being dependent on nicotine compared with the perceptions of current light and heavier smokers, may serve to further maintain very light smoking at an attitudinal level. In general, research on smoking behavior among young adults in Australia (22), Canada (23), and Finland (24) shows results similar to those reported here among US women.

The findings from our study have implications for research and practice. Health educators and health care providers working with women in emerging adulthood need to recognize the high prevalence of very light smoking in this population and screen for any level of tobacco use. In addition, smoking cessation interventions should be tailored to the higher likelihood of very light smokers being relatively young, being from minority groups, and having at least some college education compared with other smokers. Further, as with other smokers, interventions with very light smokers need to address issues of psychological maladjustment and substance misuse. Although a lack of identification as smokers (25) may present a barrier, our findings indicated that very light smokers perceive higher risks in smoking than do other smokers and tend to report less nicotine dependence, which may provide an opportunity for intervention. Because women in emerging adulthood are of childbearing age, preventing smoking before or during pregnancy is critical for maternal and child health (11).

But many of the light smokers aren’t dependent on nicotine and don’t smoke everyday, which suggests that far too many people still think smoking is a stylish look.

There’s a good reason for that.

“The tobacco industry developed campaigns to appeal to young women smokers,” the researcher noted. “Advertising aimed at women attempts to associate smoking with independence, attractiveness, and sophistication, traits that are especially likely to appeal to young women.”