Why Women Smoke: Study Results Contradict Previous Findings

    • March 1, 2000

From 1997 to 1998, researchers at the University of Arizona, Tucson, contacted and re-interviewed young women who had participated in a 1990–92 longitudinal study on body image, dieting, and smoking.

The initial study, known as the Teen Lifestyle Project, funded by the federal National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, tracked 240 eighth- and ninth-grade girls in Tucson, Arizona, over three years.

Participants were primarily white and Mexican American.

Under the follow-up study, investigators interviewed 179 of these women during 1997–98 to determine their smoking and dieting status as well as any attempts they may have made to quit smoking.

Key Findings

  • 25 percent of the women who smoked had started smoking after high school.

  • 42 percent who had been casual smokers and 38 percent who had been habitual smokers in high school had quit smoking.

  • 32 percent of casual smokers had smoked at higher levels previously but returned to being low-casual smokers.

  • 12 percent of current smokers reported that they smoked as a way to control their weight.

  • The investigators concluded, in contrast to previous studies, that women's smoking does not increase steadily over time. Rather, many young women intermittently take up and quit smoking.

    The investigators also concluded that most young women in this sample do not smoke as a dieting strategy.