Students Study Teens' Opinions About Smoking
Much of the research
conducted using money from the State of Floridas $11.3 billion
tobacco settlement has focused on the medical and physiological effects
of tobacco use or how advertising affects teenage smokers.
But when University of Florida anthropologists went out last summer
and talked to young people in Gainesville about smoking, they found
that common perceptions about teenage smoking are not always true.
This was an ethnographical and anthropological study that allowed
us to meet respondents where they were most comfortable, says
UF anthropology Chair Allan Burns. The idea was to map where young
people are smoking and what they have to say about it.
The UF group
which included doctoral students Lem Purcell, Ade Ofunnian and
Maxine Downs; masters students Rob Freeman and Ryan Theis; and
undergraduates Mattie Gallagher and Nicollette Parr spent time
at shopping centers, movie theaters and parks, talking to about 40 young
people between the ages of 11 and 16, roughly half males and half females.
The students often worked in pairs, approaching teenagers to tell them
about the study and then asking permission from their parents to interview
the teens in their homes. Blaming the tobacco industry has been a central
theme of Floridas anti-smoking Truth campaign commercials,
and masters student Rob Freeman said that even though interviewers
never brought up the commercials, the ads always came up.
In every single interview we did, the teens mentioned the commercials,
Freeman says. All but one of the teens we talked to thought they
To better understand the political and economic motivations of tobacco
use among teenagers, masters student Ryan Theis looked at non-conventional
smoking habits among a specific group of young people.
I observed a downtown venue where a lot of politically active
kids hang out. I gathered a lot of observational data, and it was very
evident that these teens would not smoke the popular corporate brands
such as Camel or Marlboro, he says. They smoked the off-beat,
unknown brands, and they felt they were making a statement.
In addition to observing teen smokers in downtown Gainesville, the group
spent time staking out local convenience stores.
We sat outside for several hours at a time, and we never saw a
young person go in the store and try to buy cigarettes, doctoral
student Lem Purcell says. The teens told us that if they smoked,
they got the cigarettes from friends. Sometimes older friends would
buy them. In a few cases parents actually bought cigarettes for their
While some research has speculated that many young people start smoking
because of peer pressure and the glamorization of smoking on television
and in advertisements, the UF group received answers that implied the
opposite might be true.
Most of the youths we interviewed think peer pressure is just
a crazy idea because they dont experience it. The times they have
smoked, they said it was because the cigarette was there and available,
not because they were pressured into it, says Gallagher.
Through the interviews, the group learned that younger kids appeared
to experiment with tobacco all the way to high school, but then things
At the high-school level, its no longer about curiosity.
They start identifying themselves as smokers. And this has implications
for reducing the number of smokers because if we have ads telling young
kids to stop smoking, but they dont see themselves as smokers,
then that advertising goes right over their heads, Burns says.
Freeman points out that even though the younger teens might not be smoking
now, they say it is a definite possibility as they grow older.
The younger kids we interviewed are very aware of smoking,
he said. Even though some middle school kids said they had never
smoked, when asked about smoking in high school, they replied that they
might because that would be another stage in their life.
Allyson A. Beutke