The social context of change in tobacco consumption following the introduction of 'smokefree' England legislation: a qualitative, longitudinal study

Soc Sci Med. 2010 Aug;71(3):459-466. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.04.025. Epub 2010 May 12.


Legislation implemented in England on 1st July 2007 to prohibit smoking in enclosed public places aimed primarily to limit exposure to second-hand smoke, thereby reducing smoking-related morbidity and mortality. We conducted a qualitative study between April 2007 and December 2008 in six contrasting localities in two metropolitan areas in the north and south of England, which examined the impact of the legislation on individuals, families and communities. Using a multi-level longitudinal case study design, we collected data at community and individual levels, from three months prior to the legislation to a year after its enactment through a range of methods, including semi-structured interviews with panel informants and observations in locality settings. Drawing on theoretical understandings of the relationship between structure, agency and practice, this paper examines the social and cultural contexts of change in tobacco consumption. Observations in a variety of community settings identified reduced smoking in public places post-legislation. More than half of panel informants reported decreased consumption at one year post-legislation; a minority had quit, maintained or increased their smoking levels. The dominant pattern of reduced consumption was attributed primarily to constraints imposed by the legislation. This suggests that the law may have provided an impetus for some smokers to cut down or quit. Smoking behaviour was, however, strongly influenced by the social networks in which smokers were embedded, indicating that, while individuals had the power to act, any changes they made were largely shaped by social structural factors. Our findings support the need for a comprehensive tobacco control strategy that takes account of the complex array of contextual factors that constrain and enable smoking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multilevel Analysis
  • Observation
  • Qualitative Research
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Social Change*
  • Social Environment*
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / prevention & control
  • Tobacco Use Cessation / psychology*
  • Tobacco Use Cessation / statistics & numerical data
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / prevention & control*
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution