Exploration of the role of smoking in the lives of young people from a disadvantaged community in Glasgow
Miller, Martine Ann
Smoking prevalence has significantly declined in Scotland over the past two decades. However, pockets of high smoking prevalence remain which are socially and spatially patterned. Thirty-two percent of adults in the most deprived communities smoke, compared with just 9% in the least deprived. Early adulthood is a key period for establishing smoking practices, with a stark increase in tobacco use between mid-adolescence and early adulthood (from 7% of 15 year olds to 14% of 16-24 year olds). The Scottish Government has committed to creating a smoke-free nation (5% or less of the population smoke) by 2034. Achieving this target requires a greater understanding of not only why smoking remains a valued social practice in areas of deprivation but also the role of smoking in young people’s lives in the period between mid-adolescence and early adulthood. The transition from adolescence to early adulthood is a crucial developmental period. It is a time where young people enter post-school destinations such as the workplace or further education, and experience increased independence from parents and carers. Such shifts in the social context of young people’s lives present opportunities to change or consolidate smoking (or non-smoking) practices. A large body of research has documented the factors that influence young people’s smoking initiation and uptake, but little is understood about the ways in which adapting to employment, unemployment, further education environments, or the leisure world of bars and nightclubs, influences young people’s smoking norms and behaviour. The aim of this thesis therefore is to explore the role of smoking in the lives of young people living in an urban deprived community as they transition from mid-to-late adolescence. In pursuing this aim, the thesis draws upon Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, capital and social practice. Participants aged 16-18 took part in friendship focus groups, engaged in participant-produced photography and undertook individual interviews to discuss the photographic imagery they had captured. Focus group discussions and individual interviews explored the social contexts in which participants smoked and how smoking practices facilitated friendships, feelings of belonging and fitting-in across multiple settings. Participants’ smoking practices within the family home were explored to discern the ways in which young people navigate and manage shifting dynamics in their parental/carer relationships as they approached early adulthood. Finally, community centre staff who worked alongside young people in the recruitment site were interviewed to explore staff perceptions of the everyday lives of young people living in the area, and the impact of austerity measures upon public services on their ability to reach out to, and work alongside, local youth. This thesis details participants’ smoking practices and reveals how the rituals of gifting and sharing cigarettes among friendship groups (and the wider community) are a highly valuable social resource that generated both social capital and sense of belonging for young people. Sense of belonging appeared particularly important for participants and acted as a buffer against the structural restrictions and marginalisation they faced growing up in a disadvantaged community. Young people responded to social and spatial controls by spending time in the streets, where they were free to create their own leisure pursuits with their friends, as well as a sense of belonging through their engagement in smoking-centred sociability. The research highlights how participants’ engagement in the collective social practice of smoking provided a means of navigating, subverting and resisting the marginalisation they experienced. Many male participants’ accounts demonstrated their reliance upon smoking-centred sociability to establish and maintain friendships. Without smoking practices and the associated rituals of sharing and passing round cigarettes or standing in large groups of smokers, male participants suggested they would be socially isolated. Smoking for young males also fulfilled a particular form of masculinity, which was policed through participating in smoking-centred sociability. Females on the other hand, did not appear to be reliant on smoking to develop and maintain friendships. Their smoking practices were not characterised by public displays of smoking, but were more likely to occur within the private sphere of their own or friends’ homes. For most participants, when entering the new social context of the workplace, being unemployed, or entering further education, existing smoking practices were reinforced. Here they actively sought out others with similar smoking norms and behaviours. In the rare occasions where participants had entered workplace settings where smoking was not perceived to be the norm, participants managed discreet smoking practices to maintain their smoking identities, while avoiding smoking-related stigma. Finally, the research found that, despite residing in a community where smoking was perceived to be normalised, most participants’ were uncomfortable smoking in front of their parents or carers. While participants discussed autonomy over their own smoking, they nonetheless experienced emotional boundaries within the family home around their smoking practices. Smoking within the family home remained a discreet practice for most young people who generally avoided smoking in front of parents or carers. These findings highlight the important influence of neighbourhood environment in the construction of young people’s smoking practices and the role of smoking as a source of inclusion and participation for adolescents living in disadvantaged communities. Where young people find alternative routes to inclusion and participation, they may be less inclined to rely on smoking and smoking-centred sociability, to establish feelings of belonging. The findings also suggest a need for gender transformative approaches to challenge young males’ understandings of masculinity and the role of smoking in male bonding and group membership, and in tackling the hidden nature of young females’ smoking. This research was conducted within a specific community; findings are not necessarily generalisable to all areas of low socio-economic status in Scotland or the UK. Nevertheless, the contextual nature of the findings is balanced by the depth of the data gathered and the insights emerging from its analysis offering a nuanced exploration of the role of smoking in the lives young people living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood.