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Lighting Up

Lighting Up: The Rise of Social Smoking on College Campuses

Mimi Nichter
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Lighting Up
    Book Description:

    While the past 40 years have seen significant declines in adult smoking, this is not the case among young adults, who have the highest prevalence of smoking of all other age groups. At a time when just about everyone knows that smoking is bad for you, why do so many college students smoke? Is it a short lived phase or do they continue throughout the college years? And what happens after college, when they enter the "real world"? Drawing on interviews and focus groups with hundreds of young adults,Lighting Uptakes the reader into their everyday lives to explore social smoking.

    Mimi Nichter argues that we must understand more about the meaning of social and low level smoking to youth, the social contexts that cause them to take up (or not take up) the habit, and the way that smoking plays a large role in students' social lives. Nichter examines how smoking facilitates social interaction, helps young people express and explore their identity, and serves as a means for communicating emotional states. Most college students who smoked socially were confident that "this was no big deal." After all, they were "not really smokers" and they would only be smoking for a short time. But, as graduation neared, they expressed ambivalence or reluctance to quit. As many grads today step into an uncertain future, where the prospect of finding a good job in a timely manner is unlikely, their 20s may be a time of great stress and instability. For those who have come to depend on the comfort of cigarettes duringcollege, this array of life stressors may make cutting back or quitting more difficult, despite one's intentions and understandings of the harms of tobacco. And emerging products on the market, like e-cigarettes, offer an opportunity to move from smoking to vaping.Lighting Upconsiders how smoking fits into the lives of young adults and how uncertain times may lead to uncertain smoking trajectories that reach into adulthood.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-1252-3
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 “It’s No Big Deal”
    (pp. 1-23)

    The quote above from this college freshman echoes prevalent ideas on college campuses about smoking. Tobacco, like alcohol, is a substance that “everyone” seemed to use, especially at parties. Few students on the campuses where I worked saw themselves as “real” smokers. They were party smokers, that is, people who mostly smoked socially. That’s why so many students referred to their occasional smoking almost as an afterthought, and talked about it as “no big deal.”

    Social smoking is common among young adults, particularly those who are in college. Social smokers tend to be lighter smokers who do not smoke on...

  5. 2 Profiles and Progressions
    (pp. 24-44)

    Think for a moment about your group of friends when you were sixteen years old. Fast-forward to age eighteen, twenty, and then twenty-two. Probably some of the faces remain the same, while others have exited from your social network. Some of these friends may have experimented with smoking a few times and decided it was not for them, others smoked socially when they partied, some smoked intermittently depending on what was going on in their lives, and others moved on to increased levels of smoking, some to become regular daily smokers. Some, like Ryan, enjoy the head rush of smoking...

  6. 3 Smoking and Drinking: “It’s Like Milk and Cookies!”
    (pp. 45-73)

    Katie’s depiction of the “good life” was shared by many other freshmen who saw college as the great escape from the watchful eyes of family members. On campus, students had more opportunities for exposure to alcohol and cigarettes than they had in high school, and previous barriers to obtaining them were no longer in place as they had been when they lived at home. With their parents out of sight, they were able to start the night when they wanted to and stumble back to their rooms in the middle of the night, drunk and reeking of cigarette smoke—if...

  7. 4 What’s Gender Got to Do with It?
    (pp. 74-100)

    Perusing online Facebook albums, one can find multitudes of photos that show college women playing the role of the “consummate party girl,” surrounded by girlfriends who exhibit the same attributes. Alcohol is prominently displayed. Young women in low-cut black minidresses sip mixed drinks from oversized fishbowls or pose around a kitchen table heaped high with empty beer and liquor bottles affirming the excesses of the night. Other young women portray themselves and their friends doing a beer pong or jello shot, two of the “absolutely quickest ways to get wasted.” What is often absent from these Facebook albums is cigarettes.¹...

  8. 5 Reconsidering Smoking as a Weight-Control Strategy
    (pp. 101-119)

    In the popular media, it is common to read that smoking is a strategy adopted by some women in an effort to control their weight. The quote above from Alexis, a college freshman, captures this sentiment and at the same time challenges it. For this discussion, I draw on data collected among female high school smokers to explore the extent to which they smoked to control their weight. Five years after their initial interviews, my colleagues and I interviewed these girls again to explore their smoking histories, whether they were smoking to control their weight, or whether they had done...

  9. 6 The Slippery Slope
    (pp. 120-147)

    As my research continued on college campuses, I became increasingly interested in the transition from “just” party smoking on weekends to more regular patterns of weekday smoking. The transition to being a smoker, a label that many students eschew, entailed smoking outside social events to include an increased number of spaces, places, and contexts. While many students told me that they didn’t want to become “real” or “regular” smokers, how did they desist? Were there intentional strategies or unconscious behaviors that some people adopted to prevent, delay, or avoid this transition? How and why did some people make this transition...

  10. 7 Tipping Points: Stress, Boredom, and Romance
    (pp. 148-168)

    During our interview, Michael describes himself as “someone who is not really a smoker but smokes every once in a while.” Despite his self-categorization as an infrequent smoker, his narrative reveals that he smokes every evening. In fact, he averages about three cigarettes each day and more on the weekends. In the spring semester of freshman year, Michael often finds himself overwhelmed with homework assignments and class projects for his demanding economics major. Several times in the recent past, when the stress gets to him, he has come to “rely on” smoking to help him manage. And it’s not just...

  11. 8 Quit Talk
    (pp. 169-193)

    Jordan, with his backwards hat and unshaven face, chuckled as he explained what it would take to quit the three cigarettes that he smoked a day and those that he enjoyed while drinking. He was sure he knew what it took to do this, but why should he bother? After all, there were still two months left of senior year. How could he continue to be a party animal if he stopped smoking? It would be hard. Quitting was something he probably should do, but there’d be plenty of time after college.

    Over the years of conducting research on smoking,...

  12. 9 Looking Forward: Uncertain Trajectories
    (pp. 194-206)

    The speaker of the above quote, Kyle, was one of the last interviews I conducted with college seniors about what their smoking might look like after graduation. Given that Kyle was a low-level smoker (about three a day), and that he had successfully quit a couple of times during college, I thought he might embrace quitting once again as he entered the “real world.” I was surprised, then, that he thought he would probably smokemoreonce he was on his own. Kyle’s sheepish and somewhat embarrassed response that his cigarettes were friends that he would need in a new...

    (pp. 207-218)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 219-232)
    (pp. 233-252)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 253-262)
    (pp. 263-263)