‘Every space is claimed’: smokers’ experiences of tobacco denormalisation

Authors


Address for correspondence: Kirsten Bell, Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, 6303 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver BC, V6T 1Z3, Canada
e-mail: kibell@interchange.ubc.ca

Abstract

Over the past decade, the strategy of ‘denormalising’ tobacco use has become one of the cornerstones of the global tobacco control movement. Although tobacco denormalisation policies primarily affect people on the lowest rungs of the social ladder, few qualitative studies have explicitly set out to explore how smokers have experienced and responded to these legislative and social changes in attitudes towards tobacco use. Drawing on a qualitative study of interviews with 25 current and ex-smokers living in Vancouver, Canada, this paper examines the ways they interpret and respond to the new socio-political environment in which they must manage the increasingly problematised practice of tobacco smoking. Overall, while not opposed to smoking restrictions per se, study participants felt that recent legislation, particularly efforts to prohibit smoking in a variety of outdoor settings, was overly restrictive and that all public space had increasingly been ‘claimed’ by non-smokers. Also apparent from participants’ accounts was the high degree of stigma attached to smoking. However, although the ‘denormalisation’ environment had encouraged several participants to quit smoking, the majority continued to smoke, raising ethical and practical questions about the value of denormalisation strategies as a way of reducing smoking-related mortality and morbidity.

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