TEENAGERS need to break the cycle of associating stress with cigarettes, it is claimed.

A new study found stress was the top reason for teenage smoking in Essex.

For those aged 14 and 15 next came boredom, to socialise with mates, to fit in with peers or to look cool or mature.

About a quarter say they are hooked so had to puff away.

The study by Anglia Ruskin University explored why teenagers smoked in six deprived areas of Essex - Basildon, Colchester, Harlow, Southend, Tendring and Thurrock.

It involved interviewing Year 10 pupils in the six most deprived areas and questionnaires sent out to schools in all of the county’s 14 districts.

Leader of Southend Council, and member of the health and wellbeing board, John Lamb, said: “It is not the way anyone should be reacting to stress, particularly young people, they need guidance and they need help so they can cope with the stress.

“I understand there is a lot of pressure on young people these days, whether it be through school and exams, and trying to keep up with peers, but you need to break the cycle of immediately associating stress with cigarettes.

“Young people need to realise that if they are stressed, and there is nothing wrong with being stressed, there will always be pressure throughout your life, there are people they can talk to.

“Whether that be their parents, or a teacher, or a doctor if they think it is necessary, and these people will be able to help and will be able to offer guidance.

“As always, it is all about talking, I think young people need to realise that smoking is a problem and not a very nice one at that, and the sooner they realise that and begin to get help, the better in the long run.

“It is worrying that young people are suffering from stress, but stress and pressure is a constant in our lives, and we need to teach young people to deal with that stress.”

The study found stress was blamed by seven in ten teenage smokers in the most deprived areas of Essex compared to six in ten in the more affluent areas.

They said they needed to smoke as a coping mechanism or to relieve them from emotional pressures.

Boredom was the second reason for teenagers puffing away again with 52.2 per cent of poor teens blaming not knowing what to do compared to 42.9 per cent of better off peers.

Around a third of poor children smoke to socialise with friends but in stark contrast half of better off peers do it as they mingle.

Being hooked on nicotine was blamed by a quarter of poor and three in ten of better off teens.

Senior lecturer Linda Homan said: “Addiction to smoking has serious health implications.

“This is particularly as addiction may lead to a lifetime smoking.

“Social workers work with socially deprived clients and therefore can have a role in assisting in health behaviour choices.

“Although smoking prevalence in the UK is just 15.5 per cent, and the smoking prevalence for Essex is 14 per cent, amongst those people who have routine or manual jobs in Essex, the rate of smoking is 23.8 per cent.

“If teenagers’ emotions are leading them to smoke then they may well need the help of professionals earlier in their habit.

“They may also benefit from the help of youth and social workers to access strategies that help them cope with stress.

“Social workers are not stop smoking advisors, and yet they work with people who are in the most deprived groups in society who are therefore most likely to be smokers.

“Social workers working with young people are well placed to give advice which can be health promoting, and this part of the article has presented the implications of what it means to rely on cigarettes as a relief for stress, boredom, or just to socialise for those young people living in poorer areas of Essex.

“It is hoped that an understanding of reasons young people smoke, will give social workers insights into how to help young people deal with stress, boredom, and socialising, without having to smoke.”

The study, published in the European Research Institute for Social Work journal, was carried out with Emma Regan from Colchester Council and Anglia Ruskin University.