Smoking among college students is a modality of interacting, of sharing a specific habit and behavior, which represents desired outcomes for fulfilling the need of belonging. The college students are usually teenagers who need to feel accepted, even admired by their peers (Walton, Cohem, Vwir & Spencer, 2011). Like this, smoking is considered a tool that enhances the social connections by college students and this is a social problem, because it changes their behavior, attitudes, personalities and it affects their health, while they pursue their goal of being accepted by a group.
Sociology is the discipline that studies society, describing the fundamental laws that conduct the social phenomena, human interaction, human behavior and it seek to explain the dynamics of the identified social problems (de la Fuente, 2005).
The sociological imagination allows its possessors to place themselves in a historical moment that they imagine, creating a false account of their social position and developing a psychological framework, transforming their own troubles and personal issues into public involvement (Mills in de la Fuente, 2005).
According to this theory, smoking among college students allows them to position themselves in a world that they imagine, that they endeavor. They escape like this from their quotidian problems and enter a world where they share their problems publicly, in a group setting. However, they share their perceived problems in public, which define their false social status. This is a sociological problem, aligned with the definition provided, as it refers to human behavior and human interaction that generate social problems for college students.
How does smoking among college students threatens these individuals’ original personal development, shaping it into a standardized personality, indicating social conformity rather than individuality?
- Individuals’ personality (the persons with high neuroticism and impulsive were found as more likely to adopt the unhealthy behaviors, hence, smoking also);
- Cognitive factors such as the sense of coherence and self-efficacy represent predictors of smoking behavior among college students;
- Social support, such as parent emotional involvement act as a protective factor against smoking, while the lack of such involvement and the presence of friends who smoke in one’s entourage can induce smoking behavior;
- Demographic factors can also predict the smoking behavior or the protective mechanisms against this behavior; women are more likely than men to enhance protective mechanisms against smoking, while ethnicities can explain the predisposition for smoking or for resisting smoking, depicting cultural values.
Smoking in a college setting appears as a psychological need of integrating in a college community by activating the social enhancement of smokers (Piasecki, Richardson & Smith, 2007). Related to the college students’ need of belonging, there was identified a connection between the students’ self-efficacy levels and their smoking habits, indicating that the low-self-efficacy students were smoking more frequently than the higher self-efficacy students (Von Ah, Ebert, Ngamvitroj et al., 2005). Based on this finding there can be deduced that smoking appears as the outcome of personal weakness that college students express. Besides the need of belonging, cigarette smoking during college years also comes as a necessity of reducing the anxiety and of stimulating the smokers (Piasecki, Richardson & Smith, 2007).
Although craving is the most self-reported reason for smoking for college students, most of them recognize that smoking has become an automatism, started out as an opportunity of socializing, of spending time with peers, on campus during their free time (Piasecki, Richardson & Smith, 2007). Therefore, according to studies, college students tend to develop a similar attitude towards smoking. What starts as a curiosity, as a need to socialize, as a weakness even (caused by low self-efficacy) or as an act of impulsiveness, lacking emotional parental support, can easily develop in an automatism, wherein the smokers simply smoke because of the simple fact that they need to smoke, not for fulfilling a specific psychological or social need.
The college period represents the time when the social smoking prevails, wherein students smoke while in bars, pubs or clubs, in the presence of other smokers or when other people (smokers or no smokers) are present, with limited smoking while they are alone (Levinson, Campo, Gascoigne, et al., 2007). This is an indication that college students consider smoking a social activity and approach it as such. However, being considered a social activity, smoking gathers people who share the same interest – for smoking out of different reasons: socializing, craving, anxiety, low-self-efficacy, boredom, etc. Sharing these and other feelings or sensations as a group can determine group thinking, and this can generate a shared behavior. The individuals belonging to a specific group will tend to develop according to the group’s identified social objectives and shared values.
For answering the research question, there needs to be applied a practical research, in addition to the theoretical one, developed in the previous chapter. The methodological design utilized for this research is a qualitative one, the diary entries. The diary entry method represents repetitive self-reports, meant to capture specific reactions, behavior, events, moods, etc. on a definite timeframe (Iida, Shrout, Laurenceau & Bolger, 2012). The current research used 50 college students, 25 from a college and the other 25 from another college. Similarly, 25 of the respondents were men and the other 25 were women, in order to maintain the gender demographic equality. There were no race or ethnicity specifications, as the college students smokers were chosen randomly, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
The diary entries were collected during a period of two weeks, on a daily basis. The college students were asked to recall at the end of each day: the context in which they smoked, if they smoked alone or alongside other people, smokers or no smokers, how did they feel before and after smoking and what else did they do while they smoked.
The findings indicate that college students most often smoke after classes, because they crave and because they are encouraged by their peers to go out and have a cigarette. 80% of students state that they mostly smoke accompanied by other smokers. However, 30% of men indicated their tendency to also smoking alone, while only 10% of women expressed this behavior. After smoking, 70% of the college students rated that they felt more connected with their peers. Among the activities practices while smoking there were indicated: drinking beverages or alcohol, talking or listening music.
Smoking among college students is a sociological problem that is best explained by the symbolic interactionism theory, which indicates that in the micro-sociological perspectives (in small groups) human behavior is influenced by the meaning created through symbolic interaction with the members of the group (Melander & Wortman, 2011). As such, the college students who smoke do so as a result of their interaction with others and continue doing so because the others continue with this habit. The functionalist theory would explain this sociological phenomenon as a dysfunction, because it causes illness among smokers and non-smokers and the conflict theory advances the existence of conflicting groups that aim to achieve a specific benefit out of a social problem (Holmwood, n.d.). Indeed, smoking can be perceived as a dysfunction and there are social groups (tobacco companies) that gain by exploiting smokers. Nevertheless, smoking appears as a behavioral issue that perpetrates a shared thinking and common personality development traits, through symbolic interactionism.
The need of belonging often leads to starting smoking in college, an activity that changes individuals’ behaviors and personalities shaped on the group’s visions and values. This research indicated that although there are many reasons for which college students start smoking and maintain this habit, one basic reason is the social interaction need. As such, college students most often smoke in groups, approaching smoking as a social activity. Smoking appears to be the result of the symbolic interactionism and it is explained through sociological imagination, as smokers design desired images for themselves that are satisfied through this activity. The need of belonging influences college students to smoke and while smoking, they tend to shape their personalities on the values that the group promotes, threatening individual development and favoring a copied personality development. Future research is recommended for identifying activities that can replace smoking as a social interaction tool among college students, for avoiding illness risks and standardized personalities caused by smoking.
Costam F.M., Jessor, R. & Turbin, M.S. (2006) College student involvement in cigarette smoking: The role of psychosocial and behavioral protection and risk. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. Vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 213-224.
De la Fuente, E. (2005) Why the “sociological imagination”? A comparison of C Wright Mills an John Dewey on the role of the imagination. TASA Conference, University of Tasmania.
Holmwood, J. (n.d.) Functionalism and its critics. Historical Developments and Theoretical Approaches in Sociology. Vol. 2.
Iida, M, Shrout, P.E., Laurenceau, J.P. & Bolger, N. (2011) Using diary methods in psychological research. APA Handbook of Research Methods in Psuchology. Vol.1., pp: 277-306.
Levinson, A.H., Campo, S., Cascooigne, J., Jolly, O. Zakharvan, A. & Vu Tran, Z. (2007) Smoking, but no smokers: Identity among college students who smoke cigarettes. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. Vol. 9, no. 8, pp: 845-852.
Melander, L.A. & Wortmann, S.L. (2011) Activating theory in the introductory classroom: Erving Goffman visits Wisteria Lane The Journal of Effective Teaching. Vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 75-86.
Piasecki, T.M., Richardson, A.E. & Smith, S.M. (2007) Self-monitored motives for smoking among college students. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 328-337.
Von Ah, D., Ebert, S., Ngamvitroj, A., Park, N. & Kang, D.H. (2005) Factors related to cigarette smoking initiation and use among college students. Tobacco Induced Diseases. Vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 27-40.
Walton, G., Cohen, G.L., Cwir, D. & Spencer, S.J. (2011) Interpersonal relations and group processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 102, no. 3, pp. 513-532.