NEW YORK CITY – August 9, 2006 – Teen girls face a complex set of pressures in their decisions about smoking and are influenced by media, peers, parents, and teachers, according to a study released today by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). DOHMH undertook an in-depth, qualitative analysis with 34 teenage girls to explore why smoking appeals to them, how they feel about addiction and quitting, and their reactions to media influences. The complete Teenage Girls and Cigarettes report, including quotes from study participants, is available online at
According to data released by DOHMH six months ago, 11% of teens report smoking. White teenage girls smoke at five times the rate of black girls and nearly three times the rate of Hispanic girls. Thirty-five percent (35%) of white teen girls say that they smoke, compared to 13% of Hispanic teen girls and 7% of black teen girls. White and Hispanic girls also smoke at higher rates than their male counterparts.
This study used group discussions and interviews primarily with white girls at a private school to examine how these girls make decisions about smoking. Although the results of the study cannot be extended to all teen girls, they provide much-needed insight into how girls think about smoking. Findings from this report will inform future smoking prevention and education programs.
Reasons Teenage Girls in the Study Cite for Smoking
- The teenage girls in this study think cigarettes make them look experienced, rebellious, and sophisticated.
- Participants see cigarettes as accessories and luxuries, not unlike handbags and shoes.
- Girls who smoke in this study felt that it helped them fit in with their friends and socialize with older kids.
- The girls in this study see smoking as a way to deal with stress and depression.
- The girls in this study continue smoking because they’re afraid they’ll gain weight if they quit.
Reasons that Teenage Girls in the Study Cite for Not Smoking
- Participants express individuality through choosing not to smoke.
- The teens in the study are afraid of becoming addicted and smoking in adulthood.
- For some of the girls in the study, there is peer pressure to stay away from smoking.
- The girls in the study understand the health consequences of smoking.
- Many of the teens in the study have watched family members battle smoking-related illnesses.
Media Images and Smoking
Participants mentioned books, movies, and magazines as influencing their smoking behavior. Nearly every participant, whether or not she smoked, mentioned the television show Sex and the City as being very influential in glamorizing smoking. When asked what kinds of anti-smoking messages people their age would listen to, participants said that it was important that messages come from a peer or an adult who has experienced the pressure to smoke and whom teenagers respect. Messages should not be preachy and should acknowledge that girls are savvy consumers of media.
“Big tobacco spends billions each year to get our kids to start smoking,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. “Targeted advertisements, magazines, movies, and television lead teen girls to see cigarettes as fashion accessories, but cigarettes are more accurately described as accessories to murder.”
“We all have a responsibility – parents, teachers, and health care providers – to counter these messages by talking to kids early about smoking. Parents should know that the single biggest predictor of whether a kid will smoke is whether their parent smokes – kids whose parents smoke are twice as likely to smoke themselves, and to be killed from tobacco use at an early age,” continued Dr. Frieden. “This is yet another powerful reason for smokers to quit today.”
When asked about anti-smoking messages, a non-smoking 9th grader said, “I mean, I think it’s better for it to come from other kids. I think you need a part that says this is why it’s bad for you and this is why you like shouldn’t do it… And you don't want stupid videos about like peer pressure and stuff... you just need something that’s not fake.”
Many of the participants were already experiencing cigarette addiction. An 11th grader who is a regular smoker said, “I’m cutting back gradually. Like, honestly, I don’t need to quit all the way…I don't want to need it so badly. I don't want to be sitting in class thinking about a cigarette, you know?”
Schools, parents and health care providers can help prevent teens from smoking and help them quit if they already smoke. Information and resources on teens and smoking are available at:
For more information on tobacco cessation and how to get help to quit smoking, call 311 or visit nyc.gov/health.