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Females reaching for the fag
( 2003-11-05 08:53) (Shanghai Daily)

Reflecting changing trends, an increasing number of Shanghai young women are taking to smoking, with some claiming it is an outlet to relieve pressure.

The number of female smokers in Shanghai has risen to 5.56 percent of the total population of 16 million, from some 2 percent in 1996, according to the Social Medical and Health Management Research Center. The city has a female population of about 8 million.

Some 20 million women in China now smoke, health officials said.

Most of the female smokers in the city are aged between 25 and 45 years, who began to smoke at an average age of 27.8 years.

"Women smokers were first seen at some social venues, such as bars and disco halls, but now it is fairly common among educated women, including white-collar workers and local university students," said Shen Yifei, a women's issue expert at Fudan University.

Many young women smoke in pursuit of fashion and modern lifestyle, as well as considering it as a sign of emancipation.

"I tried to smoke after watching a Hong Kong movie, in which the lead actress' graceful smoking posture really fascinated me," said Mei Zi, a local university student.

"Since we talk so much about equality of sexes, why can't women have the same smoking rights as men?" she asked, adding that many of her classmates had reached for the fag for the same reason.

Being part of the crowd seems to be another influential factor for women smoking.

"I was so surprised to find all my dorm-mates smoking on the first day of my university. Being unable to resist the temptation, I joined them later," said Mavis Yang, who is now a local office worker.

Yang admitted she is now addicted to the cancer stick, as critics dub the tobacco puff, staring at the huge pile of files on her office desk.

Like in Yang's case, work pressure is the single biggest factor contributing to the rising number of women smokers today.

"Working women in today's fast-moving society face great pressure. So it is natural for them to employ the same method used by their male counterparts to relieve stress, meaning smoking," Shen said.

Abetting the trend is modern society's growing leniency toward changing mores, experts said.

"For several decades after the founding of the People's Republic of China, smoking was considered a taboo for women," Shen said.

But after the opening-up drive was launched in the late 1970s more smoking women came out of the closet but increasingly there seems to be an indifference toward them.

"It doesn't matter to me whether my girlfriend smokes or not," ventured Jemm Tao, a 27-year-old.

Shen said people nowadays are not fussy as long as the smokers take care of their health. Smokers are 10 or 20 times more likely than non-smokers to contract lung cancer.

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