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No smoke without fire?

Posted on 28 February 2012

With any mention of the name ‘Frank Gallagher’ in a tabloid newspaper, there is a strong chance that one or more of the descriptions ‘drunken’, ‘feckless’, ‘slob’ or ‘scrounger’ won’t be far away – along with a photo of the Shameless television character leering at the camera, a tower of ash teetering on the end of his ever-present cigarette.

Gallagher  -- lynchpin of the Channel 4 TV series -- has long been the UK’s poster boy for socially unacceptable behaviour and neatly illustrates a connection between smoking and antisocial behaviour that is reinforced by UK tobacco control policies, according to an article in the current issue of the Journal of Social Policy.

Research suggests that smoking has become shorthand for class-related disadvantage

Professor Hilary Graham

‘Smoking, Stigma and Social Class’ by Professor Hilary Graham, of the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences, warns that whilst public health policies have played a central role in protecting health by increasing public awareness of the risks of smoking, they have done this by increasing the social unacceptability of smoking and, by extension, smokers themselves.  In 1950s Britain, smoking was considered an aspirational activity and was popular among men and women across all income groups. Since then attitudes have changed, with smoking rates having fallen fastest among higher income groups. Today, smoking is predominantly a habit of poorer groups.

Professor Graham says: “It is generally accepted that tobacco control policies can use stigma if they achieve their objective of protecting people’s health.  But there is evidence that these policies have also served to intensify public vilification of disadvantaged groups where smoking rates tend to be highest.

“Research suggests that smoking has become shorthand for class-related disadvantage - in Australia the public and the media associate smoking with unemployment, low economic status and low educational achievement;  whilst a Canadian study suggested that smokers and non-smokers alike saw smokers as ‘dirty’, ‘inconsiderate’ and ‘weak-willed’.  It’s not hard to see why Frank Gallagher’s cigarette is such a potent symbol.

“More thought must be given to the consequences of raising the level of stigma attached to smoking – conveying the message that smokers are outsiders who threaten public health will do little to reduce class prejudice and promote social cohesiveness.”

Notes to editors:

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153

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