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‘Apparent increase in smoking’ among affluent women under 45

Researchers at UCL have a found a rise in smoking rates among middle class and wealthier women under the age of 45 in England
Higher rates of smoking found in younger affluent women in the UK

More middle- and upper-class women under 45 are smoking in England, suggests a study from the University College London (UCL).

The study found that the percentage of women in this group who smoked rose from 11.7% to 14.9% between 2013-2023. Less advantaged women were more likely to smoke overall, but smoking rates in this group fell from 28.7% to 22.4%.

Lead author Dr Sarah Jackson, of UCL's institute of epidemiology and health care, said: ‘It is concerning to find an apparent increase in smoking among women under 45 from more advantaged social groups in England. We did not see this in all adults or in men of the same age.’

‘Reducing smoking is especially important among women in this age group as smoking reduces fertility and increases the chances of complications during pregnancy, miscarriage and poor infant health,’ added Dr Jackson.

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The study examined data from October 2013 to October 2023 for 197,266 adults aged 18 and over, of whom 44,052 were women of reproductive age (18 to 45).

Experts discovered decrease in smoking rates among working-class women and those in lower socioeconomic groups. These women lived in households whose highest earners were in manual, semi- or unskilled jobs, or who were unemployed (known as C2DE).

In contrast, smoking prevalence rose among women classed as more advantaged, where the highest household earners were in professional, managerial or clerical jobs (ABC1).

The researchers said the reason for disparities in smoking rates ‘remains unclear,’ but suggest the cost-of-living crisis may have reduced smoking rates among women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Writing in BMC Medicine, the researchers said: ‘These financial pressures probably contributed to the reduction in smoking prevalence among women from less advantaged social grades and encouraged those who did not stop to switch to hand-rolled products as a way to afford to continue to smoke.’

The study comes as MPs in the UK backed PM Rishi Sunak’s plan to ban anyone born after 2009 from buying cigarettes.

A spokesman from the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘The health advice is clear - nobody should start smoking. This is why we are taking bold action to create the world's first smokefree generation, with MPs voting the Tobacco and Vapes Bill through to committee stage.’

‘We have also doubled funding for stop smoking services to nearly £140 million a year, helping 360,000 people to quit with affordable and easy access support, including our Swap to Stop programme,’ they said.