Guest Post: teenage girls and smoking

Barts-MS often takes in school students for work experience. We ask some of the students to take on small projects and to write reports. One of our research programmes is to prevent MS. Smoking is an important risk factor for developing MS; smokers have an approximately 50% higher risk of developing MS.

A large and increasing problem in the UK is teenage smoking, particularly amongst teenage girls. We, therefore, asked Amy Sankey, one of our work experience students, to explore this issue amongst her peers at her school. 

The following is Amy’s survey and report back. We were very impressed with Amy’s commitment and attitude and sincerely hope she achieves her aim of getting into her University of choice to study chemistry.  

Survey Summary

A survey was conducted into the level of knowledge teenage girls had of autoimmune diseases and the impact of smoking on the risk of MS. The goal was to determine whether attention should be directed to campaigns on reducing levels of smoking in girls. To this end, they were also asked how much of an impact they felt this knowledge had on them personally and how much they felt it would impact others.

The results of the survey show that teenagers are much less aware of how smoking increases the likelihood of MS than of the other consequences. Almost everyone (97%) is aware of the increased likelihood of lung cancer from smoking. However, fewer than a third of teenage girls knew that smoking increases the likelihood of MS. There was also a significant lack of understanding of what MS or even autoimmune disease in general. These limitations of current knowledge mean that it is worthwhile in increasing campaigns which targets high school age students to increase their knowledge of both the risk posed by smoking and the dangers of smoking in relation to developing MS. The responses given show that at least some students have found this information to have an impact on them personally. The majority think it will have at least some impact on levels of teenage smoking in general.

It is therefore concluded that some form of a targeted campaign is launched within schools or to the general public to highlight the particular dangers of smoking in relation to developing MS. Many teenagers are now desensitised to hearing about how smoking causes cancer. Descriptions of the particular symptoms of MS and how these affect their lives may therefore have more of an impact than continuing to highlight the general dangers as is done currently. The results of the survey also showed that students with a greater level of knowledge about MS and also those who have a personal connection to a pwMS are less likely to consider smoking. Girls have a higher risk of MS than boys but the findings may also be applicable to boys. The overall goal is to reduce levels of teenage smoking in general.

The following is a detailed analysis of the results of the survey and suggestions for campaigns :

To conclude, the survey showed that teenagers currently have limited knowledge of MS as a disease and of how smoking impacts the likelihood of MS. There is also direct evidence from the survey that increased knowledge of MS as a disease and of these risks does discourage teenage girls from smoking, and therefore we can conclude that campaigns to increase awareness of both of the areas would be a worthwhile investment.


Amy Sankey is a 17-year-old student at North London Collegiate School who is planning on studying Chemistry at university. She is studying Higher Level Biology and Chemistry as part of her IB course. She undertook work experience with Professor Giovannoni last summer and has then carried out a survey into student knowledge of autoimmune diseases at her school, in order to work out how best to raise awareness of the risks of smoking in relation to MS and how to reduce levels of teenage smoking.

12 thoughts on “Guest Post: teenage girls and smoking”

  1. Well done; a very important study. I am impressed, but doing this via one school may be biased. I suggest extending it to other schools, particularly state schools.

  2. A very important issue thank you for covering it. How can you convince teenagers with no connection to MS or other autoimmune diseases to not smoke?

  3. There was one sentence that spoke volumes to me and illustrated the root of the problem. I quote 'Almost everyone (97%) is aware of the increased likelihood of lung cancer from smoking. However, fewer than a third of teenage girls knew that smoking increases the likelihood of MS. There was also a significant lack of understanding of what MS or even autoimmune disease in general. 'Increasing awareness of MS and other debilitating Long Term Conditions should be a priority and then talk about the effects of smoking.

  4. The iconic image of a youth with a fag remains cool. Sorry, but it is.It's pure rock and roll.

  5. I applaud the work being done here. I wish I had listened to all the warnings about smoking when I was young. As it may have well prevented me from getting MS. While its not the only reason, it for sure certainly didn't help that's for sure. On the flip side, being diagnosed stopped me smoking….as Patrick highlighted the stat, that 97% of people know of the link between increase chances of cancer. I certainly knew of this, and still smoked. So Its very challenging to get people to stop something even when they know the risk. I guess, because in most cases as we are evolved to think optimistically, we act with the thinking it will never happen to us.Within all my waffle, I am really just to say its going to be a challenge. As if knowing smoking causes cancer isn't putting people off, then will knowing it causes MS!? I guess as peter suggests, if people understood what MS could be like, then it will likely help.I did read something promising recently about the new generation who are very health conscious, not smoking, eating better, and wanting to look good; and understanding being healthy is one of the best way to achieve this. Even my dentist recently commented that younger children look after their teeth much better than previous generations. So this must be down to more health education. So keep up the work; what you are doing is very important!

    1. I think people assume cancer and MS won't happen to them, it's something someone else gets.

  6. I live in a very sunny country, ate fish my whole life, never smoked once, I even have higher testosterone than normal. Yet, I have MS.Being a daugher to a mother with Hashimotos and (if its that) having EBV in my teens seemed to be enough.It takes more than those interventions to prevent MS it seems.

    1. We know, but stopping the population smoking will reduce incidence of MS by ~10%. That is not trivial. Stopping people being infected with EBV may prevent MS altogether. EBV is where the money is.

  7. As a teenager I had a extremely aggressive case of glandular fever that landed me in hospital .Not only did I suffer from the immediate consequences such as to my school work at the time. Caused from being absent for a long period etc. I also became withdrawn, had low energy, and my studies and relationships suffered too. And most likely it caused my MS too. Damn, I hate that virus!If EBV is the cause, is there any hope of helping people who already have MS, or would it be more the prevention of future generations by trying to stop people getting EBV?your money is on EBV, is their sufficient money being spent on the research? Do you have any information on current trails/ research? Whats a realistic timeline to answer your hypothesis?

    1. "Do you have any information on current trails/ research?"Your neuros are busy w/ their free time w/ their hobbies andtravel and what not. Most feel like their training from 20-30 yearsshould suffice..and they've no obligation to keep up with EBV things.So basically all on you to find out about EBV. Good Luck.

  8. hi can you get ebv from oral sex? i did this a couple of times on my boyfriend and then developed glandular fever

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