A letter in this week's BMJ argues that mobile phones may be competing successfully with cigarettes to meet certain important teenage needs.
Teenage trends 1996-2000:
Smoking fell from 30% to 23% (15-year-olds)
Mobile ownership rose to 70% (15-17-year-olds)
Smoking among 15-year-olds in Britain fell from 30% to 23% between 1996 and 1999. Mobile phone ownership among 15- to 17-year-olds, on the other hand, rose from low levels in 1996 to 70% by August 2000.
Clive Bates and Anne Charlton, from London, UK, hypothesize that these trends are related because some teenagers will be unable to afford both. In addition, the mobile satisfies the same teenage needs as smoking - offering adult style and aspiration, individuality, sociability, rebellion and peer group bonding.
For teenagers, smoking may become seen as "old technology", suggest the authors, with the bright new world of text messaging, email and WAP becoming the new aspirational gateway to adult life.
Data on teenage smoking are not yet available for 2000. If the authors' hypothesis is correct, the continued rise of the mobile phone as a competitor to cigarettes may drive teenage smoking rates down further.