Four million people die worldwide each year from smoking and tobacco kills 60% of its customers. Why don’t these figures scare smokers? Smoking is becoming a big problem around the UK as more and more young people take to the fag. In Semester 1 I created a mind map titled ‘Suicide, Smoking and the Search for the Unsticky Cigarette’, a chapter from ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell, and discussed with others possible ways in which to resolve the issues explained. Through utilising my findings in Semester 1 and different methods from Assignment 1 to 4 in Semester 2, I will be researching the topic of smoking in depth to find out real reasons why young people begin to smoke and what influences them.
Our first assignment in Semester 2 ‘Are You What You Wear/Buy/Sit On/Sleep In/Talk To?’ was about analysing photos of someone’s house or childhood photos to determine what kind of person they are. I believe this method would not give you genuine reasons as to why people smoke because you need to find out what kind of person they are from talking to them. Some people create false statements through their room, thus talking face to face with them will give you valid answers and real emotion straightaway. Perhaps you may find some hints like stubbed out cigarettes in an ashtray or equipment for smoking but this information cannot explain why they smoke or if they had been influenced in any way. Thus, I feel you cannot determine a person’s motives for smoking by simply snooping around their house as information gathered may not be supported enough.
Observing people smoking could be a method of noticing similarities between smokers. For instance, you may become aware that smokers generally light up in groups thus suggesting that smoking is sociable and beneficial in making new friends. A means of recording this information could be writing a survey for yourself, having a list of possible situations of how people are smoking (smoking in groups, smoking alone, girl smoking, and boy smoking). To gather more blunt results go out at night and record how many people stand outside pubs and clubs, determine how many people are smoking by themselves to people who are smoking in groups. You may notice a huge difference between the two. At the end of the experiment you could see what situation was most common in how people smoke, thus implying that perhaps this is a reason why people smoke. This message of ‘smoking is beneficial in making friends’ creates a positive image in young people’s brains. Adolescents crave the idea of fitting in, being accepted, and being part of the ‘cool’ group but why is smoking perceived as ‘cool’? I have read many articles arguing this issue and many of them utter the same reasons. One study conducted by E. J. Salber, B. Welsh, and S. V. Taylor in November, 1959 to students in the public high schools of Newton, Massachusetts demonstrated that ‘conformity to peer group’ was by far the commonest reason as to why young people smoke. Conformity meaning compliance in actions or behaviour: ‘“to follow the crowd”, “because it’s fashionable”, “to be one of the gang”’. These statements are echoed among young people today and consequently emphasising the idea of ‘sociability and cigarette’: perhaps the main attraction and cause for young people smoking. In Semester 1, we discussed how cigarettes are well designed: they have been cleverly advertised; conveyed as elegant, sociable and sophisticated; they are sticky. The tobacco industry has lied to customers by portraying positive images of smoking and not showing adverse side effects. How can adverts communicate to young people more effectively? Instead of advertising how bad smoking is for your health, perhaps we should almost embarrass young people’s actions: that they copy and are influenced by their friends smoking rather than their parents as motives are more powerful than actual behaviour.
An assignment called ‘What Images Mean’, Semester 2, involved giving a person three photographs and asking them to create a brief story using those photos. I consider this a beneficial technique because you can learn how adolescents think and perceive images. In a case for smoking, you could give an adolescent two photographs: one of someone with a cigarette, the other without. Ask them to perhaps describe the person in each photo, you may notice a difference in the attitudes. It is likely the person holding the cigarette will be portrayed by youth as sexy, cool and sociable suggesting how wrong the image for a smoking has become. Ask the adolescent to create a story using the person smoking linked with two other photographs and then another with the person not smoking. Is there a distinct dissimilarity between the two stories described? This method of asking young people to tell a story using images of smoking and non-smoking is an effective technique because it can show that tobacco use has been portrayed to young people as a positive activity, not a deathly cancerous addiction.
I believe a good method in receiving truthful views, reasons, and suggestions are from interviewing young smokers, discontinuous smokers and non-smokers. Interviews would be a good technique because you can ask questions to people who have actually experienced smoking in youth culture and get real explanations as to what influenced them to smoke. A documentary film ‘Scene Smoking: Cigarettes, Cinema, & the Myth of Cool’ by Terry Moloney talks about smoking in films and how it possibly has an effect on youth today. Films including tobacco use are portraying the complete wrong idea to young people, that smoking is a popular, sultry, socially seductive, and normal behaviour. When have you ever seen a film with someone dying of a smoking-related disease? This normalising of smoking can increase the chance of young people to light up because they will perceive the cigarette as being safe and ordinary: “The more young people are exposed to smoking images, the more it normalises the behaviour to them”, Alisa Lyons, UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies. Perhaps when interviewing people you could ask questions related to film: “are you influenced to smoke by your favourite movie star or celebrity?”, “do you believe that what people see in films influence their behaviour?”, “what is your view of tobacco use in movies?” In addition, asking them what their favourite film could reveal why they smoke, for instance, ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, there are numerous scenes of Bridget smoking which conveys images into adolescent’s minds. What surprises me is this film was in fact rated for children aged 15 – could this be a reason why smoking is attracting today’s youth? After reading an article from The Sunday Times Online: ‘Smoking kills? Yaay, that’s so cool, say teens’ my thoughts turn to warning labels and anti-smoking adverts: have these messages caused young people to rebel? I am beginning to believe that young people are starting to light up because it activates a rebellious side to them. Thus, questions about anti-smoking messages could be asked: “do warning labels on cigarette packets affect your smoking habits?”, “do you think young people smoke because they want to rebel?” Another way of obtaining different suggestions is by interviewing health professionals or tobacco sellers. Asking salesmen, “how do you think young people get hold of cigarettes these days?” and “what ways are there to combat this problem?” Therefore, I think interviewing young people, health professionals and tobacco sellers is an effective method in obtaining genuine thoughts, suggestions and reasons in youth smoking.
I think this research should be carried out when the town, schools, and universities are busy, thus, during term time when all the students are back from holiday. This allows you to have more young people to interview and carry out research on. All the experiments will most likely need about six months to finalise as after every process you would need to write brief summaries of what was said by students, conclude surveys, discuss results and thoughts from other fellow research partners, and analyse results from all investigations. I believe working with others would be greatly beneficial because there would be different opinions, varied thoughts and additional results, therefore, the overall research would be more accurate.
I feel observing, analysing and interviewing smokers, discontinuous smokers, and non-smokers would be a beneficial way of helping to determine the reasons for young people to light up. Seeing smokers in action can help reveal the attractions of why adolescents want to smoke: because it looks sociable and helps in meeting new people; asking youth to analyse photographs of smoking and non-smoking can determine their views on tobacco use – whether it is seen as a positive activity; and the most effective method, interviewing can provide researchers with honest, varied and truthful reasons for smoking.
Bee, P., (May 10, 2010) ‘Smoking kills? Yaay, that’s so cool, say teens’, The Sunday Times
Gladwell, M. (2000) The Tipping Point, Great Britain: Little, Brown.
Lyons, A., (Cited by Bee, P., 2010) UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, ‘Smoking kills? Yaay, that’s so cool, say teens’, The Sunday Times
‘Scene Smoking: Cigarettes, Cinema, & the Myth of Cool: Smoking in Film and Television’ (April 2001) Moloney, T., USA [documentary]
Salber, E. J., Taylor, S. V., and Welsh, B (June 1972) ‘Reasons for Smoking Given By Secondary School Children’, Journal of Health and Human Behaviour, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 118-129