Introduction: Tobacco use in China is disproportionally distributed among rural and urban populations with rural people smoking more. While there is a wealth of evidence on the association between tobacco use among rural people and their lower socio-economic status (SES), how social structural factors contribute to rural smoking is not well understood. Guided by a socio-ecological model, the objective of this study was to explore the personal and social determinants that play a key role in sustaining smoking practices among Chinese rural people.
Methods: An ethnographic study was conducted in a rural area of Central Jiangsu, China. Participants (n = 29) were recruited from families where there was at least one smoking resident and there were young children. In-depth interviews and unstructured observations were used to collect data, which were then analyzed with an interpretive lens.
Results: Although individuals had limited knowledge about the risks of smoking and lack of motivation to quit, social factors were in effect the main barriers to quitting smoking. Cigarette exchange and cigarette gifting permeated every aspect of rural family life, from economic activities to leisure pastimes, in family and wider social interactions. Traditional familism and collectivism interplayed with the pro-smoking environment and supported rural people's smoking practices at the community level. Living in the rural area was also a barrier to quitting smoking because of the lack of information on smoking cessation and the influence of courtyard-based leisure activities that facilitated smoking.
Conclusion: Development of comprehensive smoking cessation interventions in rural China needs to extend beyond an individual level to take into account the social determinants influencing smoking practices.