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Friday, 6 October, 2000, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Mobile phones cut schoolgirl smoking?
Mobile phone use has soared among teenagers
Mobile phone use has soared among teenagers
Mobile phones could be a surprise weapon in the health education campaign to cut smoking among young women.

Doctors attending a conference this week in London heard "anecdotal evidence" that the upsurge of use of mobile phones among teenage girls was slowing the rate of increase in smoking.

There has been much concern among health education officials over the growing numbers of teenage girls who are taking up smoking.

But there were suggestions at a conference organised by the British Thoracic Society and the University of East London's Centre for Public Health Policy that mobile phones could be taking the place of cigarettes as a way of making schoolgirls feel grown-up.

Status symbols

"Image is most important in the taking up of smoking and one of the attractions for young girls is that it makes them feel adult," says William MacNee, Professor of Respiratory and Environmental Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

"And the speculation is that the mobile phone could play a similar role in making them feel adult, lessening the need for cigarettes.

"Mobile phones could be filling a gap in the growing up process that has sometimes been taken by smoking.

"Being seen to have a mobile phone is an important sign of entering the adult world - and as with smoking there is much peer pressure associated with it," said Professor MacNee.

Although this remains as only a theory, Professor MacNee draws parallels between the way teenagers use phones and the rituals of smoking - with both serving a social and display purpose.

"You see young people holding a phone, as though they're about to use it - it's something in their hand - and there are similarities to the rituals of smoking," he says.

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