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Cigarette smoking is the second major cause of death in the world and is the cause of 1

out of every 10 adult deaths. (World Health Organization website) Unless action is taken, from

2025 to 2030 an estimated 10 million people will die prematurely die from tobacco use. (WHO,

Tobacco Atlas) It is also an activity that is very much avoidable. With so much risk involved with

smoking, it is a wonder that so many people still smoke. How are the last couple sentences

connected? An increase in anti-smoking sentiment has swept the nation yet the idea of “cool

smokers” is still ubiquitous. In almost every movie, smoking occurs within the first few minutes,

yet it is widely known that smoking is hazardous to one’s health.

It is important to know what factors influence the decisions to smoke, because of the

larger implications of death as a result of smoking. Don’t understand how that follows Since

smoking is extremely hard to quit, why do people start? The factors that influence smoking

initiation, in many cases, seem purely social. It is interesting to note that the pressures behind the

decision to smoke could also affect our lives in other ways. With so many decisions stemming

from perceived information, the initiation of smoking demonstrates just one way that we are

influenced by social factors. Many social conformity theories that have been developed may

explain the decision to smoke. This paper discusses several theories in order to address the

question: what social factors influence the decision to start smoking? An analysis of these

theories then discusses how they explain smoking behavior.

In order to look at smoking decision making social factors, it is necessary to first look at

models of conformity. There are two prevalent theories about conformity and changing opinions.

The “rational” model of pre-conformity is a model that states that opinions are altered before a

decision and thus influence that decision. This model demonstrates the idea that behavior is a

result of personal opinions, and no cognitive dissonance occurs. However in order to have pre-
conformity changes of meaning effects, it is necessary to have both motivation to engage in

critical thinking instead of passively agreeing with the group, and “accessibility of relevant

attitudes.” (Griffin) These different attitudes then interchange when weighing new information

prior to a decision. When using this model, a decision-maker first makes cognitions align

themselves with decisions before they are made. Don’t understand what this senstance means

The second model, the “rationalizing” model of post-conformity, proposes that decisions

are directly influenced by social situations, and then opinions are changed to justify behavior

changes. (Griffin) When a decision is made, social influences can immediately alter the decision

and then the decision-maker will alter his or /her opinions to align with the decision. In the case

where an opinions that differs from the taken action would normally weigh heavily within the

makers mind this appears to be a sentence fragment. However, since a contradictory decision

was made, the social influences must be extremely powerful to completely alter a decision.

In The experiment conducted by Griffin and Buehler’s experiment, examined the

prevalence of each theory noting that pre-conformity should most often occur when before a

decision they observe shifts in judgment followed by group discussion that introduces novel

ideas. On the contrary if they were to observe “mindless” conformity, they would see “novel”

ideas formed after the decision: post-conformity. From the results, it was shown that among

students the pre-conformity change of meaning effect was less prevalent than the post-

conformity change of meaning effect. Though there were limitations to this experiment that they

address such as the stimuli provoking cognitive processing or not, the findings suggest that social

pressures first alter behavior then change attitudes, however individual situations could be

processed differently than other situations and thus one model could describe a certain situation

that the other does not.

In order to understand many of the conformity and social pressure theories, the idea of

social influence must be introduced. Social influence is just how strongly those around us

influence us. In an experiment to see the effects of social influence, it was shown that peer

pressure has the ability to make participants to state a clearly wrong answer to a simple problem.

In his line experiment (who is he?), he measured an individual’s willingness to conform to a

group. The results showed that due to peer pressure, individuals were giving the wrong answer

36.8 percent of the time as opposed to the ordinary 1 per cent. (Asch) As was stated above,

situational influences must be extremely persuasive in order to cause cognitive dissonance from

a decision. When Asch observed conformity to the level of obvious misevaluation being credited

to situational factors, it follows that social pressure, though often not verbalized, is extremely


In the study done by Griffin et al., the post-conformity model offers an explanation for

the cognitive dissonance and the tension that resulted from Asch’s line experiments. In the case

of smoking, when there is peer pressure, the decision can first be resolved before opinions about

cigarettes are changed. Thus, the post-conformity model of change in meaning best describes

direct pressure leading to a change in normal action, direct pressure being a situation where peers

influence is immediately imposing on a decision.

When dealing with the decision to start smoking, a person who subscribes to the pre-

conformity theory, will create a positive opinion of smoking prior to actually trying cigarettes.

The decision will be based upon previous cognitions such as ideas about the social environment,

an idea of smokers, and the risks involved with smoking. (Evans et. al) Social pressure might

also be a factor considered when one is in a situation where the opportunity to smoke is
immediately available, but the opinion about smoking must first be changed to a positive one

before initiation.

One model of factors for smoking initiation is the model introduced by Evans et al. This

model takes into account two factors: the immediate social environment, and the individual

perceptions about smoking. Their social influence model stems from Social Learning Theory that

states that it is human nature to learn from those around us. (Krohn et al.) The theory proposed

by Evans et al. addresses the initiation of the use of cigarettes as a decision influenced by

opportunities to observe and use cigarettes as well as by social norms supporting smoking.

The first variable of this model is social environment. Based on the results of Evans et

all’s survey, it has been shown that social environment does play a large role in decisions to

smoke. When looked analyzed in depth by a study conducted by Wiium et al., an adolescent may

see family members who smoke as roles models and thus have a positive image of smoking. This

positive image of smoking then influences the intentions of an individual to smoke. In addition to

relatives, peers also play a large role in decision influence. In this study however, it was found

that friends and peers consistently exerted a stronger influence on a person’s propensity to

smoke. Thus the implications are that although having relatives around one that smoke is a

factor, often times peer pressure will exert a greater influence on his/her decision to smoke.

The second variable is the social image of smoking. Thought it is correlated with the

social environment, it serves to extend the model into the individual’s cognitions about smoking.

Don’t understsand the previous sentence For example, although one might not live with

relatives who smoke and know the effects of tobacco the lungs in the long run, he/she might still

have positive thoughts about smoking because a movie star is a chain smoker. The individual
cognitions about smoking create a smokers image. In this model, the social image of smoking

influences the idea of smoking as a desirable behavior.

The typical smoker image is one of popularity. There are two possible influences into the

smoker stereotype in adolescents: self-consistency and self-enhancement. Self-consistence

constitutes the smokers who smoke because their own self-image is that of a smoker’s. Thus

smoking is consistent with their image. Conversely, self-enhancement refers to smokers who

smoke in order to positively affect their self-image. One self-enhancement motive would be

smoking to be popular. (Aloise-Young) Three smoker stereotypes were examined in the

experiment done by Aloise-Young et al.: cool, sociable and smart. Though two of the stereotypes

are often associated with smokers by adolescents, “smart” was hypothesized to be negatively

related to smoker’s stereotype.

The results of the experiment showed that within teens those who had a similar self-

image to that of a smoker were more likely to have tried smoking. People who saw both

themselves and smokers as “cool” were more likely to have tried smoking themselves. It was

also found that those currently non-smokers that had a similar self-image to smoker stereotype

were more likely to start smoking over the next year. However it was noted that because few of

the participants rated smokers more positively than themselves, smoking as a way of self-

enhancement was not the primary force behind initiation. (Aloise-Young) This study only looked

at the effects of self-image and smoker stereotype on the initiation of smoking.

Similarly in a study done by Barton et al., there was a correlation found between positive

smoking images and the intentions to smoke among sixth and tenth grade adolescents. In this

study participants rated images of smokers in aspects such as healthy-unhealthy, tough-timid,

good looking-ugly. When the image was retouched to remove the cigarette, ratings of each of
these qualities changed. Students rated smokers as less healthy, less wise, less obedient and

among the sixth grade less likely to do well in school. However smoking carried positive ratings

in toughness, desirability by the opposite sex, and other social aspects. (Barton et al.) Thus the

social factors may outweigh the physical health factors when students decide to smoke. The

limitations of this study, however, were that it only looked at the social image of smoking on the

desire to start smoking. In reality we know that advertisements and other sources of social factors

heavily influence this decision.

From both Both the survey done by Evans et al., and the study done by Aloise-Young et

al., it is obvious evident that social factors do play a role in the decision to start smoking. There

is a definite correlation between smoking and positive images of smokers (Evans; Aloise-Young)

as well as one between smoking and social environments that provides smoking role models.

(Wiium et al.) Thus a conclusion can be drawn stating that social learning theory and models that

relate it to smoking are relevant to the initiation of cigarette smoking. (Krohn et al.)

However, with this pre-conformity model, the decision-maker will still change his/her

views on smoking before trying a cigarette. Social forces such as smokers image can have a large

part in the decision to start smoking. (Aloise-Young; Barton) However because of a usual

hesitation to try cigarettes, this model’s shortcomings stem from necessity in changing opinions

to align with actions. For example, when one hesitates but then smokes a cigarette for the first

time, but does not enjoy it and does not want to smoke ever again, this model’s explanation is

that his/her opinion of smoking back and forth. Previous sentence is incomplete Therefore, as

stated above, this model may not be the best explanation when dealing with direct peer pressure.

In this example the behavior is more likely to fit this “rationalizing” model because “just

trying” a cigarette is a way to introduce new information off which to base new opinions. For
new experiences, often times people will want to try things before making judgments. The post-

conformity model would best describe this method of cognitive appraisal. Though informational

studies on the effects of direct peer pressure on smoking are limited, when experiencing direct

peer pressure contrary to a person’s perception, there should be an aroused tension in that

individual. (Goldman et al.) This would imply that when in a situation where smoking is

available but would be contrary to one’s beliefs, tension and arousal would occur. This increase

in arousal could explain decisions aligned with the group or more risky; the decision to start

smoking when offered a cigarette from a peer. This is seen in many anti-drug campaigns that

offer the slogan “Just Say No,” in which adolescents are approached by peers and offered

cigarettes but resist agitation by quickly saying no. A conflicting argument to these campaigns is

it has demonstrated that arousal often leads to risky decisions not based on prior knowledge but

perceptions immediately available. (Ariely and Loewnstein) If an adolescent were confronted

with a situation where smoking was available, he/she might not think about the health

implications but the social implications of being accepted by the group, and would end up

smoking to conform.

Both of these models, pre and post-conformity, demonstrate various aspects of social

influence on the initiation of smoking in adolescents. However there are still problems with the

models. Though smoking is related to social influences, it is not known that they are directly

linked. Social influence and smoking could be linked through a change in mindset or body

physiology such as the arousal mentioned above. Though these are linked, misattribution could

occur when social influences are said to be the cause smoking initiation. Still, these empirical

studies prove that there social environment and smoker’s image do influence the decision to start

Another concern with these models is that not one predicts human behavior on its own.

The post-conformity model would imply that when in a direct pressure smoking situation, an

adolescent could potentially ignore all previous opinions and focus only on the immediate

information. This would not take into account weighing the decisions benefits and costs before

taking action. Also because peer pressure can be applied over long periods of time, a situation

where the decision is to smoke immediately or not might not be the milestone for the change in

opinion. Instead the pre-conformity model offers another explanation for the situation: the idea

of deliberation before action.

In conclusion both models of conformity appear to be valid for describing various aspects

of the initiation of smoking. Social factors heavily weigh upon an adolescents decision to smoke.


Empirical(experimented on) vs Naturalistic (seen in nature)

In the case of smoking, the preconformity theory takes into account several factors.
1. pre
relation to smoking
2. post
relation to smoking
major theory of smoking influences
pre - social influences – social image, social enviroment
post – stuck in a social situation pressure then leads to increase in risky behavior


Several theories have been created to explain the influence of social pressure on a persons

Social Influence = how we are strongly influenced by others

Informational Social Influence Theory = when we don’t know what to do we copy others

Social Impact Theory = how we behave depends on how many are watching
Social Learning Theory = we learn much by watching others, thinking, then trying it

Social Norms Theory = groups have rules that must be followed