Explanations of ethnic and gender differences in youth smoking: a multi-site, qualitative investigation. The Tobacco Control Network Writing Group.


R Mermelstein

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Two of the most powerful predictors of adolescent smoking are ethnicity and gender, but little research has focused on understanding how these factors play a role in adolescent smoking. This paper reports results from a qualitative, multi-site investigation of explanations for ethnic and gender differences in cigarette smoking with five ethnic groups: whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian-American/Pacific Islanders. Across 11 states, we conducted 178 focus groups with a total of 1175 adolescents. The groups explored such major research themes as reasons for smoking and not smoking; images of smoking and smokers; messages youth receive about smoking and not smoking; and the social context of smoking. We synthesized data from the focus groups through multiple cross-site collaborations and discussions, with an emphasis on identifying consistent themes across a majority of groups and sites. Striking differences emerged across ethnic and gender sub-groups in reasons for not smoking. African-American females in particular viewed not smoking as a positive identity marker. Asian-American/Pacific Islander females similarly reported strong mandates not to smoke. Youth's perceptions of family messages about smoking also varied by ethnicity and gender, with African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American/Pacific Islander youth consistently reporting strong, clear anti-smoking messages from family. These findings, notable in their consistency across geographic regions, may shed light on the discrepant prevalence of smoking across ethnic and gender groups.