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Social smokers' management of conflicted identities

Abstract

Background Although social smoking has increased among young adults, it remains a poorly understood behaviour. The authors explored how young adult social smokers viewed and defined smoking and the strategies they used to reconcile their conflicting smoker and non-smoker identities. The authors also examined alcohol's role in facilitating social smoking and investigated measures that would decouple drinking and smoking.

Methods The authors conducted 13 in-depth interviews with young adult social smokers aged between 19 and 25 years and used thematic analysis to interpret the transcripts.

Results The authors identified four key themes: the demarcation strategies social smokers used to avoid classifying themselves as smokers, social smoking as a tactic that ameliorates the risk of alienation, alcohol as a catalyst of social smoking and the difficulty participants experienced in reconciling their identity as non-smokers who smoke.

Conclusions Although social smokers regret smoking, their retrospective remorse was insufficient to promote behaviour change, and environmental modifications appear more likely to promote smoke-free behaviours among social smokers. Participants strongly supported extending the smoke-free areas outside bars, a measure that would help decouple their alcohol-fuelled behaviours from the identity to which they aspire.

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