Are mobile phones reducing teenage smoking?

November 02, 2000

Decline in teenage smoking with rise in mobile phone ownership: hypothesis

Is there a link between the sharp decline in teenage smoking since 1996 and the dramatic rise in mobile phone ownership among teenagers over the same period? A letter in this week's BMJ argues that mobile phones may be competing successfully with cigarettes to meet certain important teenage needs.

Smoking among 15 year olds fell from 30% to 23% between 1996 and 1999, while mobile phone ownership among 15-17 year olds rose from low levels in 1996 to 70% by August 2000. Clive Bates and Anne Charlton hypothesise that these trends are related because some teenagers will be unable to afford both and that the mobile satisfies the same teenage needs as smoking - offering adult style and aspiration, individuality, sociability, rebellion, and peer group bonding.

For teenagers, smoking may become seen as "old technology", suggest the authors, with the bright new world of text messaging, email and WAP becoming the new aspirational gateway to adult life.

Data on teenage smoking are not yet available for 2000 but, if the authors' hypothesis is correct, the continued rise of the mobile phone as a competitor to cigarettes may drive teenage smoking rates down further.

Further information including the original data is available at:

Clive Bates, Director, Action on Smoking and Health, London, UK Email:


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