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Gerard Hastings, Centre for Tobacco Control Research
"At the moment the research is quite speculative"
 real 56k

Friday, 3 November, 2000, 00:25 GMT
Mobiles 'cut teenage smoking'
Smokers who start young find it hard to quit
Teenagers may be getting healthier because mobile phones are replacing cigarettes as a symbol of rebellion and fashion.

That is the belief of Action on Smoking and Health, the anti-smoking group, whose research was published in the British Medical Journal.

The jury may still be out about whether mobile phones themselves could pose a health risk, but the dangers of smoking are absolutely clear

Dr Mike Murphy, Imperial Cancer Research Fund
One of the greatest obstacles facing those trying to dissuade young people from taking up smoking is the smart, chic, image that the habit has among this age group.

However, current trends suggest that fewer teenagers are smoking. Among 15-year-olds, smoking fell from 30% to 23% between 1996 to 1999.

Mobile phone ownership, conversely, rose steeply over the same period. Now, 70% of teenagers own one.

While there is absolutely no evidence that the two trends are linked, Clive Bates, Ash director, suggested that the need to stay in fashion by owning a phone may mean less money is available to pay for cigarettes.

Mr Bates said: "If some teenagers cannot afford to smoke and pay for a mobile phone, or they find that owning a mobile phone satisfies the same needs as smoking, they may decide not to smoke.

"Smoking may become seen as old technology, with the bright new world of text messaging, email, WAP, and 3G phones becoming the aspirational gateway to adult life."

Cause for celebration

Cancer charities are relieved to see any drop in teenage smoking, even if the cause is uncertain.

If smoking continues into adult life, the eventual result is a much greater risk of respiratory problems, heart disease or lung cancer.

Dr Mike Murphy, head of Imperial Cancer Research Fund's General Practice Research Group in Oxford, conducts research into why young people and adults smoke and how best to help them give up.

He said: "The fact that teenage smoking rates are declining is very good news indeed, and it's an interesting suggestion that this could be due to the rapid increase in mobile phone ownership in this group.

"The jury may still be out about whether mobile phones themselves could pose a health risk, but the dangers of smoking are absolutely clear - half of all regular smokers will die from tobacco if they aren't able to quit.

"Teenagers think they're immortal, when they take up smoking they think it will be easy to quit whenever they want, but we know they won't find it easy."

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