Smoking on the rise among women, say studies

Aparna Alluri

Most of them are young girls who start well before the age of 18, especially in the high-income groups

Peer pressure is one reason why girls smoke

Stress plays big role as many work late hours

HYDERABAD: Loosening inhibitions, changing attitudes and much more have contributed to the rise of cigarette smoking among women from high income groups in Hyderabad. Recent studies say not only are more women smoking than ever before but most of them are young girls, who start well before the age of 18. Twenty-three-year old Deepika admits she started smoking when she was in class 12, like many of her friends.

“People start younger now. I know juniors from school who started as early as Class 9,” she says.

Why are women smoking more than earlier? Apart from greater independence there is also opportunity of place which was lacking a decade ago.

Coffee shops are so popular because youngsters can smoke here. Deepika says, “You are less likely to bump into older people in a coffee shop.”

Though night clubs have smoking zones not too many girls use them for fear of being spotted. “It was easier when we could smoke inside because no one really notices,” says Smriti Raghavan (22), working in an ad agency. “A lot more girls smoke in private parties because they know everyone there,” she adds. Not only are coffee shops and night clubs less public but are restricted to a certain age group and social class. Girls smoke here because there are not as many eyes judging them. Also, alcohol makes people less self-conscious. “Many girls smoke only after drinking because they feel less inhibited,” says twenty-two-year old Malini Pratap.

Peer pressure is one reason why girls smoke. Abhay Madhok, working in Google, says, “Many girls started after joining work because they took breaks with friends who smoke.”

Stress also plays a role because many of them work late hours. Easy social acceptance or the “cool factor” is probably why so many youngsters start smoking in school. In the case of girls the rules are even stronger and so is the sense of adventure in breaking them. “Girls smoke for the same reasons as boys,” insists Smriti. “It’s more visible now because things have changed.”

How much has changed though? “People think girls who smoke are more radical or independent but that’s not true,” says Smriti. “Smoking I can get away with but there are so many other things I can’t do”.