A Symbolic Interaction Approach to Cigarette Smoking: Smoking Frequency and the Desire to Quit Smoking

Sociol Focus. 2010;43(3):193-213. doi: 10.1080/00380237.2010.10571376.


This study applies a symbolic interaction perspective to the investigation of smoking frequency and a person's desire to quit smoking cigarettes. Data derived from 485 Atlanta area adult smokers provide a diverse, community-based sample of married and single men and women, aged 18 to 70 years old with a range of income, education, and occupational experiences. Multiple regression was used to analyze the data in order to explore the influence of social demographic characteristics, social interaction, subjective assessments of health, self conceptions, and smoker identity on smoking frequency and quitting smoking. Findings include: (1) the relationship with a non-smoker and hiding smoking negatively impacted smoking frequency, while perceiving positive consequences from smoking has a positive effect on smoking frequency; and (2) perceiving positive consequences of smoking was negatively related to the desire to quit smoking, while a negative smoker identity has a positive influence on the desire to quit. Taken as a whole, the symbolic interaction-inspired variables exerted strong and independent effects on both smoking frequency and quitting smoking. Future smoking interventions should focus on meanings and perceived consequences of smoking in general, and on the smoker identity in the development of campaigns to encourage quitting cigarette smoking.