Today's young smokers: individualist, alternative and slightly late

October 22, 2015, 1:16 PM GMT+0

18-34 year olds who smoke are more likely to be slightly late, have alternative music tastes and describe themselves as individualistic

Smoking rates have more than halved in Britain since 1974 – now around a sixth of the total population smoke, or 22% of adult men and 17% of adult women. Along with falling crime, teen pregnancy and drug use, smoking among young people has fallen considerably over the past 20 years. So if you're young and still smoke despite today's health trends, what does it say about you? Are there any unifiying characteristics of that group of young smokers huddled outside the office?

We used statistics from YouGov Profiles to investigate what really differentiates young smokers from their non smoking peers.

By analysing the profile data of nearly 3,000 18-34 year old Brits, known as 'millenials', who smoke regularly or every day and comparing them to over 10,000 18-34 year olds who have never smoked, we found some considerable differences in aspects of their personalities and tastes.

First of all, young smokers are significantly less likely to be punctual than non smokers (58% say themselves that they tend to be early and 31% tend to be late, compared to 71% and 20% respectively for non smokers).

Second, their more relaxed attitude to health and having a good time clearly spreads more widely. Nearly one in two millenial smokers (47%) agree with the statement 'when I drink, I drink to get drunk' compared to only 21% of their non-smoking peers.

YouGov asks all its members to describe their own personality from a fixed list of 100 positive and 100 negative personality traits. The descriptors that stand out statistically for young smokers give us a clear picture of what makes this group distinctive. Independent, original, funny - but at their worse moments insecure, moody and reckless.

Their taste in music confirms this outsider identity. While millenial non smokers are more likely to enjoy mainstream popstars like Taylor Swift and Coldplay, the acts that stand out as particularly popular among young smokers are all heavy. Hip hop, metal and rock artists like Dr. Dre, Slipknot and Iggy Pop all rank highly. The actors they identify with play troubled characters – Pacino, Elba and De Niro – while their peers who have never smoked are into sweet, English stars like Emma Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Radcliffe.

Demography will always be a key explanation when looking at the root causes of smoking, and education and poverty elimination continue to be powerful tools in the effort to increase the giving up rate. But the data suggests that now more than ever – while the health effects are so widely known and the decision to smoke is more eccentric – choosing to smoke really does say something about your personality and attitude to the world.

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