“Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the United States, despite a significant decline in the number of people who smoke. Over 16 million Americans have at least one disease caused by smoking. This amounts to $170 billion in direct medical costs that could be saved every year if we could prevent youth from starting to smoke and help every person who smokes to quit” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). Cigarette use in our youth population is a serious behavioral health issue, one that requires the combative focus of social action groups. The youth of today look to their community based social norms, their parental guidance, and to the facts illustrated through social media and news outlets for information on how to act and what is normalized behavior. There is a lot of information out there that generates supportive movements one way or another. If one were to look at centuries past, idealizing and promotion of smoking was common place. “There was a time when people didn’t know that smoking cigarettes could be deadly—a long time ago, doctors even recommended that people smoke to cure other illnesses” (National Institute of Health, 2009). Today, it is required by law in the United States that every cigarette carton state the health dangers and give great detail about the poisonous toxins that the body is subjected to when smoking.
In my youth and from personal experience, growing up in a small rural town who normalized tobacco use— I can say that many of my friends began sneaking around and smoking as early as middle school. I was suckered into the peer pressure of trying it before the age of 10. Although the smell was terrible and the smoke burned my lungs, I took a drag all the same in an attempt to be “cool” like the other kids. In my freshman year in high school, my close friend came to me in tears saying that her father had passed away from lung cancer. It changed things for me, seeing how her pain and loss overcame her. This change was not triggered in many of her other close friends, friends who even today continue to ask if we have lighters handy. Cigarettes are addictive, they are poisonous and they kill; sometimes more slowly for some, but in the end— they hack away at the health of the body all the same.
Health groups and organizations such as the CDC’s: Tips from Former Smokers Campaign help advocate on both a federal and state level for smokers to quit the harmful habit. “Since 2012, the CDC has been educating the public about the consequences of smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke and encouraging smokers to quit through a federally funded, national tobacco education campaign” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). Campaigns such as this involve the use of what is known as participatory action research. This type of research is gathered with the intention of using comparative research rooted in empirical evidence combined with the practical interest of mankind—all with the intent to ignite change or social action. It isn’t enough to just lay out facts to medical professionals about how bad smoking is and rely on annual doctor visits to suffice, participatory action research calls on the community to spread knowledge and an informing agenda to our youth more regularly.
Participatory action research demands “greater involvement and commitment on our parts to our own communities and to addressing issues of social justice around the world” (Brydon‐Miller, 1997). It draws a connection between society and science for the betterment of mankind as a whole. “Community-based participatory research involves the equitable partnership between the researchers and members of the community that is being researched, and is aimed at creating positive community change” (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). In reference to this particular social issue, this means that we as a society need to diminish the socialization and acceptance of our youth smoking. This can take form through the use of advocating to the media to be held accountable for glamourizing smoking for our youth. It can be represented by parents choosing to quit smoking or even just by them choosing to have more serious conversations with their children about the dangers of smoking. It can be brought about by backing political affiliates who tout a no-smoking agenda, or even be as simple as liking a Truth about Smoking campaign on a social media platform for all your followers to see. All of these options bring about change in some way, they give meaning and a driving force to this participatory action research agenda.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, September 13). Extinguishing the Tobacco Epidemic in Washington | CDC. Retrieved April 14, 2019, from
National Institute of Health. (2009, December 9). Smoking: Then and Now. Retrieved April 14, 2019, from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/smoking-then-and-now
Brydon‐Miller, M. (1997). Participatory action research: Psychology and social change. Journal of Social Issues, 53(4), 657-666. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00042
Schneider, F., Gruman, J., & Coutts, L. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.