Background Little is known about perceived norms about cigarette smoking in Uganda or the extent to which perceptions drive personal cigarette smoking behaviour.
Methods We conducted a cross-sectional study in 2016–2018 that targeted all adults who resided within eight villages in Rwampara District, southwestern Uganda. Personal cigarette smoking frequency was elicited by self-report. We also asked participants what they believed to be the cigarette smoking frequency of most other adult men and women in their villages (i.e., perceived norms). Frequent cigarette smoking was defined as 4+ times/week. We compared perceived norms to cigarette smoking frequency reports aggregated at the village level. We used multivariable Poisson regression to estimate the association between perceived norms and personal cigarette smoking behaviour.
Results Among 1626 participants (91% response rate), 92 of 719 men (13%) and 6 of 907 women (0.7%) reported frequent smoking. However, 1030 (63%) incorrectly believed most men in their villages smoked cigarettes frequently. Additionally, 116 (7%) incorrectly believed that most women in their villages smoked cigarettes frequently. These misperceptions were pervasive across social strata. Men who misperceived frequent cigarette smoking as the norm among other men in their villages were more likely to smoke frequently themselves (adjusted relative risk=1.49; 95% CI, 1.13 to 1.97).
Conclusions Most adults overestimated cigarette smoking frequency among village peers. Men who incorrectly believed that frequent smoking was the norm were more likely to engage in frequent smoking themselves. Applying a ‘social norms approach’ intervention by promoting existing healthy norms may prevent smoking initiation or motivate reductions in smoking among men in rural Uganda.
- low/middle income country
- global health
- social marketing
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