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The 'moral career' of cigarette smokers: A French survey

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This paper aims to illustrate the relevance of Howard S. Becker's sociological model of deviance for a better understanding of contemporary adult smoking. From this perspective, one crucial aspect of smoking is smokers' ability to develop and entertain convincing rationalizations that help them to deny smoking hazards and challenge anti-tobacco messages. Several hypotheses are derived from this model and most of them are successfully tested with quantitative data from a cross-sectional survey conducted in the Paris Ile-de-France Region. As expected, most smokers agreed that smoking damages health and considered being well-informed about smoking hazards, even those who denied these hazards for themselves. Moreover, smokers' rationalizations were closely correlated to cigarette consumption and duration since smoking initiation. Paradoxically, risk denial was also stronger among smokers who have some characteristics usually considered as protective factors against smoking (especially future-orientation and importance attached to one's health). More generally, our sociological perspective leads to consider smokers' risk denial as the result of acquired cognitive skills instead of the consequences of lack of information or psychological bias. We believe it provides a promising avenue for further research.

Keywords: Cigarette smoking; France; moral career; risk denial

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Health Monitoring Centre of Paris Ile-de-France Region (ORSIF), Paris, France

Publication date: 2007-09-01

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