"I smoke but I am not a smoker": phantom smokers and the discrepancy between self-identity and behavior

J Am Coll Health. 2010;59(2):117-25. doi: 10.1080/07448481.2010.483704.


Objective: This article presents the development of a new smoking status, the "phantom smokers," who do not view themselves as smokers but report smoking cigarettes.

Participants: Students from 2 universities in Michigan (N = 899; October 2005) and Florida (N = 1,517; May 2006) participated in surveys.

Methods: Respondents in Michigan completed measures regarding smoking status and tobacco use, and respondents in Florida completed measures regarding smoking status, tobacco use, smoking consequences, and norms.

Results: The studies identify the incidence of phantom smokers (29.6% in Michigan and 5.5% in Florida). Different questions resulted in different smoking rates. Phantom smokers expect more negative affect reduction and social facilitation from smoking than nonsmokers. Phantom smokers display ambivalent attitudes toward a typical smoker's image. They experience less pressure to change their smoking behavior than smokers.

Conclusion: Phantom smokers' dissociation from smokers should be recognized and targeted as a distinct group for antismoking messages.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Concept*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Social Perception
  • Students / psychology*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult