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Stress is main reason teenagers smoke - study

Published: 19 September 2018 at 13:44

Hand holding a cigarette

Research finds that people in deprived areas are more likely to smoke at early age

Stress is the main reason that young people take up smoking, and it is more likely to be a factor in deprived areas, according to a recent study.

Research by Anglia Ruskin University examined smoking habits of Year 10 pupils in schools in Essex. The research consisted of interviews with the students in six of the most deprived local authority areas and questionnaires sent out to schools in all of the county’s 14 districts.

The questionnaire found that in areas of higher deprivation, 70.1% of young people said that stress is a main reason for their smoking. In less deprived areas, this was cited by 62.6% of participants.

Boredom was the second highest response and was also more common in areas of higher deprivation (52.2% against 42.9%). People in less deprived areas were more likely to smoke to socialise (49%) than people in more deprived areas (35%) – however, those from more deprived areas were more likely to say they smoked to fit in (30.6% against 25.9%).

In interviews with children from poorer districts, researchers encountered children citing the ‘need’ to smoke to relieve stress or as a coping mechanism. Some respondents said they saw their parents smoking to ease stress, and acknowledged they made an association.

Researcher Linda Homan, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“Teenagers in both deprived and wealthier areas are saying that stress is the main reason they are smoking. That should serve as a wake-up call to agencies as we know that early smoking can lead to addiction and subsequent health problems in later life.


“If teenagers’ emotions are leading them to smoke then they may well need the help of professionals earlier in their habit. They may also benefit from the help of youth and social workers to access strategies that help them cope with stress.


“It is hoped that an understanding of reasons young people smoke will give social workers insight into how to help young people deal with stress, boredom and socialising without having to smoke.”

The study, published in the journal European Research Institute for Social Work, was carried out together with Emma Regan of Colchester Borough Council.