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Research finding

15-16-year-olds smoke most in northern Norway

Young people in Nordland smoke least, but use the most smokeless tobacco (snus). Young people in Finnmark smoke the most. These findings come from surveys among 15-16 year olds in six counties in Norway from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, in collaboration with the University of Tromsø.

Health studies were carried out among 15-16-year-olds from six counties; Hedmark, Oppland, Oslo, Troms, Finnmark and Nordland. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health ran the surveys in southern Norway, and co-operated with the Center for Sami Health Research at the University of Tromsø in the northern counties.

Girls in northern Norway smoke most

Comparison between the six counties shows that young people in Nordland smoke least. For daily and occasional smoking there is little difference between the counties in the north and south of the country.

  • Smoking among girls: The total for all six counties shows that 33 per cent of girls in 10th grade smoke; half of them are daily smokers and the other half occasional smokers. Girls in Troms and Finnmark smoke most, when the groups of daily and occasional smokers are added together. Among girls in Northern Norway, 17 percent in Nordland and 26 percent in Finnmark smoke daily. In southern counties 15 percent of girls smoke daily  
  • Smoking among boys: In total for all six counties, 26 per cent of boys smoke, of which 14 percent smoke daily. In Finnmark, 22 percent smoke daily, in Nordland this is 10 percent.

To compare, a survey from the North of Norway in the 1990s found that there were fewer daily smokers; 15 per cent of all 15-16-year-olds were then daily smokers and 12 per cent occasional smokers. The survey also showed that among Sami youth a slightly higher proportion were daily smokers and a lower proportion were occasional smokers than among Norwegian youths in general (Kvernmo 2003).

Begin at 13 years old

Those who smoked daily, occasionally, or were ex-smokers, were asked how old they were when they began. For boys, the average age was 13.1 years, while for the girls this was 13.4 years. The figures were fairly equally in all six counties, but the boys in Northern Norway were slightly younger when they began to smoke (12.8 years on average) than boys in the southern counties (13.2 years on average).

There is frequent focus on the negative long-term effects of smoking. But even teenage smokers experience more health problems than non-smokers. This is shown in a survey in Nord Trøndelag, where smokers had more headaches, musculoskeletal complaints and stomach problems than non-smoking peers. There was also a higher frequency of respiratory problems and infections among young smokers.

Mostly smokeless tobacco among boys

It is mostly boys who use smokeless tobacco. Girls use it occasionally, but rarely daily.

  • Daily use is most prevalent in Nordland, where one of three boys (32 per cent) uses smokeless tobacco either daily (14 percent) or occasionally (18 per cent). In Troms there is the same number of smokeless tobacco users, but a smaller percentage are daily users; 23 percent are occasional users and 10 percent daily. 
  • Smokeless tobacco use in boys: Among boys, 21 percent of the 15-16-year-olds in the six counties use smokeless tobacco. Of these, 6 percent use it daily. Among boys, Troms has the highest proportion of the total users; Oslo has the lowest proportion. 
  • Smokeless tobacco use in girls: Four percent of girls use smokeless tobacco, and very few use it daily. Nordland and Troms had the most occasional use among girls; respectively 9 percent and 7 percent.

Use both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco

The majority of 15-16-year-olds use either cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. In the north, 60 per cent of boys and 63 percent of girls use either; in the south, 65 percent of boys and 64 per cent of girls do so.

Often, it is the same young people who use both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Between 35 and 40 percent of 15-16-year olds in the six counties use either cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, or both. In the three northernmost counties, 16 percent of boys and 6 percent of girls use both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco occasionally or daily. The corresponding figures for the three counties in the south are 11 percent for boys and 1 percent for girls.

The studies in the north were carried out from 2003-2004, except for Tromsø where the survey took place in 2002. In southern counties, health studies were conducted in the period 2000-2002. This may explain the higher percentage of smokeless tobacco users in the north as a sharply rising smokeless tobacco usage has been reported in Norway.


At the Norwegian Institute of Public Health:
Senior adviser Liv Grøtvedt, tel (+47) 21 07 81 49
Senior researcher Randi Selmer, tel (+47) 21 07 82 15

At the Centre for Sami Health Research:
Project leader, psychiatrist Dr. Siv Kvernmo, University of Tromsø, tel (+47) 77 75 57 25 / 78 46 89 00 / 97 57 22 68