Performing coolness: smoking refusal and adolescent identities

Health Educ Res. 2002 Apr;17(2):167-79. doi: 10.1093/her/17.2.167.


The implications of smoking refusal for personal identity style were studied through conversations in six small focus groups or dyads of 13- and 14-year-old non-smokers from an urban New Zealand secondary school. The approach to analyzing their talk was informed by notions of 'performativity' and 'social space' to focus on the connections between identity and social relations. Smoking emerged as a key signifier of power and status. It was salient at both top and bottom ends of the social hierarchy depending upon the competence displayed in smoking as part of a larger ensemble of personal deportment and behavior. Being a non-smoker therefore inevitably carried connotations of being 'average' or 'in the middle', presenting non-smoking adolescents with the problem of accrediting themselves against superior 'smoker cool' groups. A discourse analytic approach was used to examine the resources and strategies participants brought to bear on this 'problem', which was then seen to be solved differently by boys and girls. Boys could establish alternatives to 'smoker cool' through physical activity, girls had little recourse but to accept their inferior status. The implications of this for health education and promotion are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Peer Group
  • Power, Psychological
  • Smoking / psychology*