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Social smokers' management of conflicted identities
  1. Janet Hoek1,
  2. Ninya Maubach2,
  3. Rachel Stevenson2,
  4. Philip Gendall3,
  5. Richard Edwards4
  1. 1University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. 2Department of Marketing, University of Otago, New Zealand
  3. 3Department of Marketing, Massey University, New Zealand
  4. 4Department of Public Health, University of Otago, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Professor Janet Hoek, Department of Marketing, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand; janet.hoek{at}


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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  • Funding RS was supported by funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand grant number 09/195R.

  • Competing interests Although we do not consider it a competing interest, for the sake of full disclosure, we note that JH, NM, PG and RE have undertaken work for the New Zealand Ministry of Health; JH, PG and RE have also undertaken work for tobacco control NGOs and have received funding for tobacco control research from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by Department of Marketing Ethics Administrator using delegated authority from University of Otago Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Our ethics approval states that the data will only be available to members of the immediate research team.