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Keywords:

  • Young people;
  • self identity;
  • smoking;
  • late modernity;
  • health;
  • risk-taking

ABSTRACT

This paper argues that ‘uncertain identities’ are a distinct contributing factor to the residual and intractable level of smoking among young people. Further, it argues that the significance of this factor is increased by the specific social/historical context of late modernity. Findings from research with 15 to 16 year olds in the East Midlands of England are used to explore the role that smoking is perceived to play in constructing a self identity. A voluntaristic perspective is adopted on the use of tobacco, reflecting both the focus on young people's motivation to smoke and the tendency for many young people to perceive smoking as a matter of personal choice. Smoking was found to have a symbolic significance not only in terms of the presentation of self to others but also in terms of the reflexive construction of the self by those involved. The paper analyses the role of smoking in relation to self-image, self-empowerment and self-affirmation and it is concluded that for many young people smoking has certain benefits in terms of coping with uncertain identities.