Are Teenagers Hanging Up on Cigarettes?
LONDON (Reuters) - The youthful addiction to mobile telephones that dismays so many parents and teachers could be providing a big benefit -- ``mobiles'' could be turning teenagers away from tobacco, British experts said on Friday.
Smoking has declined among British teenagers from 30 percent in 1996 to 23 percent in 1999, while ownership of the ubiquitous portable telephones among 15-to-17 year olds skyrocketed to 70 percent by August 2000.
Clive Bates, of the anti-smoking group ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), and Anne Charlton of the University of Manchester suggest it is more than just a coincidence.
``The reason kids smoke is very similar to the reason they use mobile phones,'' Bates said in a telephone interview.
``There is an incredible overlap between what smoking and mobile phone use means to kids -- membership of a peer group, something to do with their hands, something to be stylish and adult with and something to be a bit rebellious with.''
Adults say their mobile phones are the only way they can keep in touch with work, family and friends.
But for teenagers, the pocket-sized devices are smart, chic and adult. And like cigarettes, they are important in socializing.
``If their friends are using mobile phones to organize social life on the move, then for some kids a mobile is going to be seen as essential -- effectively a peer group pressure,'' Bates said.
Pre-paid cards that allow set amounts of mobile telephone calls -- a popular alternative to monthly bills -- could be consuming teens' pocket money that might otherwise go for cigarettes.
New Source Of Cool
Charlton, a specialist in children's perceptions of advertising, has even noted a similarity between mobile marketing and tobacco campaigns.
``Mobile phones are marketed in a very similar way to cigarettes with a subtle pitch that focuses on self-image, identity and confidence,'' she said in a statement.
Bates and Charlton, whose theory is published in The British Medical Journal, stressed that at this stage it is only a hypothesis. But they believe it is a plausible one.
Dr Mike Murphy, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund charity in London, agrees.
``Anything that might prevent teenagers getting hooked on this deadly habit has got to be encouraging news,'' he said in a statement.
``If the theory turns out to be true, it shows how influential peer pressure is, something the tobacco industry has banked on for years.''
The health hazards of smoking are well documented but the potential risks of using a mobile phone are still uncertain. Some researchers have suggested that they can cause brain damage and that the young are particularly vulnerable.
``With smoking you have a very visible body count. In the UK there are about 120,000 -- in the world there are about four million -- deaths a year from smoking-related diseases,'' Bates said.
``With mobile phones you have speculation that these could have an effect on the brain. We don't think the two are comparable.''