Stigmatizing smokers: public sentiment toward cigarette smoking and its relationship to smoking behaviors

J Health Commun. 2003 Jul-Aug;8(4):343-67. doi: 10.1080/10810730305723.


Public sentiment in the United States has been evolving against cigarette smoking. Providing support for stronger tobacco control legislation, unfavorable public sentiment has contributed to the decrease in the size of the smoking population in this country. The present study hypothesizes that the unfavorable public sentiment may also discourage cigarette smoking by creating an unfavorable "smoking climate" in which smoking is socially rejected as a deviant behavior. Analyses of several secondary data-sets provided evidence that smoking rates are lower in the states where the public holds relatively unfavorable sentiment toward cigarette smoking. The relationship between public sentiment and smoking rates was significant even after controlling for the effects of state-level tobacco control measures, such as cigarette taxes and smoking restrictions in private workplaces and restaurants. We also found that smokers who have experienced unfavorable public sentiment are more willing to quit smoking than those who have not, supporting the hypothesized effects of antismoking public sentiment on smoking behaviors.

MeSH terms

  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Prejudice*
  • Public Opinion*
  • Smoking / ethnology*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Smoking Cessation / psychology
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Social Conformity
  • State Government
  • United States / epidemiology