Tobacco and Shared Roots with Culture

Cigarette smoking among teenagers and adolescents is influenced and encouraged by a wide variety of factors, some of which are biological, psychosocial, and environmental. Research shows that there is a stronger connection of individuals between the ages of 18-25 years, with smoking. Typically, in this time period, people tend to graduate school, attend college, get […]

Cigarette smoking among teenagers and adolescents is influenced and encouraged by a wide variety of factors, some of which are biological, psychosocial, and environmental. Research shows that there is a stronger connection of individuals between the ages of 18-25 years, with smoking. Typically, in this time period, people tend to graduate school, attend college, get married, have children, and take on a variety of responsibilities at work. Adolescence, in particular, is a vulnerable time – it involves more emotional, impulsive, and risk-taking behaviours whilst one simultaneously undergoes numerous psychological and physiological changes. As individuals move on to the next stage of life, they either take the path of choosing to smoke or to lead a smoke-free lifestyle. Studies have shown that smoking is not a random lifestyle change; it is one that gets fortified through different stages, such as an individual’s exposure to smoking early on in life, the transition from frequent to regular usage themselves, and this ultimately leading to dependence on the substance. The social environment plays an important role in encouraging or discouraging smoking behaviour as well. 

For instance, in 1964, smoking was becoming increasingly popular amongst men and women in the United States. In fact, 50% of the male population in the US smoked at that point of time. Furthering the same habit, commonly frequented public locations such as worksites, movie theatres, and aeroplanes permitted smoking. Cigarette smoking in particular was used in many commercials in the US during this time; it was associated with glamour, sex appeal, wealth, popularity, and power. Currently, in the 21st century, there has been a drop in the percentage of people smoking in the US, particularly amongst the more educated and affluent classes. An individual’s experience with culture, i.e their identity and their position within society in many cases dictates if they will be tobacco users, and also how they will consume tobacco. 

Along with one’s direct environment, their culture, race, ethnicity, and religion play a crucial role in encouraging or discouraging smoking behaviour. While comparing the percentages of smokers of different races, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest number. In the American Indian culture, it is believed that tobacco had healing properties and as a result, it was used in ceremonial practices to protect and heal the sick. Another reason to use tobacco was to teach their traditions, especially during their storytelling traditions. In certain cultures, cigarettes are offered as gifts; for instance, in Chinese culture, cigarettes are given as tokens, and if one were to decline, it is perceived as being impolite. Tobacco is a part of their social gathering- after dinner, the men and the boys smoke together, and it is seen as an essential part of strengthening their relationship with one another. In certain cultures, smoking is predominantly seen as a sign of manhood, and women are looked down upon for smoking. For example, Korean American men and Vietnamese men see smoking as a “manly” behaviour, but they frown upon their women engaging in tobacco consumption. In developing countries, rates of tobacco usage are lower among girls as compared to their male counterparts. In many countries of the world, this ratio has reduced in current times, i.e. the gender gap for tobacco users has come down.  

Not only is there a gender gap between tobacco consumers, but also a very prevalent generation gap- a research study has revealed that amongst three generations of women living in Scotland, the ones born in the 1930’s and the 1970’s did not consider smoking to be associated with femininity, but the ones born in the 1950’s did. In India, the youth are largely influenced to smoke by western culture, and that is only furthered by popular media and the internet. When society considers a behaviour unhealthy, that also influences individual preferences towards those behaviours. In the United States, the societal attitude towards smoking has become largely negative, and this has led to only one in five Americans being consumers of tobacco. The individuals who smoke tend to be from a lower educational background, and their environment plays an important role in determining whether, and how long, they will continue to smoke. Some of the risk factors in a particular neighbourhood include close proximity of convenient stores, comfortable places to smoke, availability of tobacco products, as well as media culture- all of these contribute to encouraging the usage of tobacco. 

Another area that has been analysed with its correlation to smoking behaviour is academic achievement. Research shows the possibility of a reciprocal relationship between two factors:

  1. a) tobacco usage causing low academic grades 

  1. b) poor academic performance predicting the usage of tobacco by the student 

When researchers studied students from classes 8th, 10th, and 12th grades, they discovered that students who attained A’s in their coursework had the lowest usage of tobacco. On the contrary, students who attained more D’s in their coursework showed the highest percentage of smoking. Programs that are part of school health policies can encourage students to excel in their studies, and this can eventually lessen the usage of tobacco among the students. Ultimately, it is only stringent non-smoking policies that create long term non-smoking behaviour, as they build anti-smoking social norms. Popular media such as movies and advertising are key factors that have a strong influence on the people. When pro-tobacco messages are propagated through such media, it leads to individuals having the perception that tobacco products are readily available, and this eventually leads to smoking behaviour. 

Forms of Tobacco Consumption

Tobacco has been in use for centuries, with the history of consumption dating back to over 8,000 years. Over the years, the methods of consuming tobacco have changed, owing to its usage in different parts of the world and the development of various devices for the same. Though it can be highly addictive and harmful for the body, the chemical- nicotine- present in tobacco causes people to continuously engage in its consumption due to the increase in the reward chemical- dopamine- in the brain.Tobacco has been used in various ways by youth around the world with smoking, chewing, and sniffing being the most common methods of consumption. Tobacco consumption mostly develops in individuals’ youth, and the form of consumption depends majorly upon where the person is from. That being said, smoking cigarettes tops the list of being the predominant way of using tobacco among youth. Apart from that, bidis, cigars, kreteks, and sticks are also used by young people by way of smoking to consume tobacco. Chewing tobacco is also a common way of using tobacco with no smoke involved, where tobacco is placed inside the mouth, where it is then crushed by the person’s teeth to consume it. Chewable tobacco comes in many ways, such as loose-leaf, gutka, pan masala, dips, khaini, and chew bags, among others. Lastly, as yet another smokeless form of tobacco, snuff is grounded tobacco which is placed on the hand and inhaled through the nose. This way, the person gets a hit of tobacco along with any flavour blended into it. Snuff can be both moist and dry, and it is commonly used all around the world.Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), operated with batteries, are devices that allow users to “vape”, derived from the word ‘vapour’. With this, the nicotine and other chemicals reach the lung in the form of vapour rather than smoke. Though often presented as a safer option compared to traditional cigarettes, studies show that the results are still uncertain. Another common way tobacco is commonly used is by way of hookah, which is an instrument through which tobacco, flavoured tobacco, and other substances are consumed. Lastly, tobacco is also often used by youth along with cannabis to get a stronger high, and to improve the lasting effects of cannabis. 

Prepared by Jaya

Research And Analysis

              Hibiscus Foundation