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By J Hughes, University of Chicago Press, 2003, US$27.00, 216 pages, ISBN 0226359107
Learning to smoke
It is a sign of the stature and maturity of tobacco control that it has become a mine for sociologists intent on “making strange” our background assumptions about smoking and public health responses to it. Hughes’ book Learning to smoke is written to counter the vision of smoking as essentially just a vehicle for nicotine self administration. As he says, this explanation misses almost all of what makes smoking attractive and interesting, and fails to explain the many differences in methods of “nicotine self administration” both now and in the past. Hughes insists that there is nothing biologically determined about the experience of smoking itself. Rather, one learns how to smoke—how to make sense of and respond to the physical sensations and cultural cues that accompany it.
The first two thirds of the book are occupied with a brief history of smoking from European contact with America onwards. This narrative serves as the vehicle for Hughes’ central argument, which is that …