Apr 19

Smoking and Social Change Initiatives for Our Youth

“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.

Sep 15

Changing Perspectives

I often wondered what made some people feel helpless and others empowered in their choices and decision-making.  While I knew that thoughts could play a part in both, I did not realize how debilitating some could be when experienced in a negative light.  In this week’s reading for applied social psychology, Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts (2012) discussed Seligman and colleagues model of learned helplessness called the “attributional reformulation of the learned helplessness theory of depression.” As probably assumed by the name, people that are prone to depression typically believe that their situation is unchangeable and expect a negative outcome as a result (Schneider et al., 2012, p. 94).  Thinking about this cycle, it is no wonder why individuals continually experience the same results and always see the “down side.”  It’s pretty hard to break away from something that seems to occur naturally, particularly if happens more often than the good things.  But I am curious, can this change?  Has this practice been used in other settings successfully?

I received one answer in a study sought to change self-defeating behaviors in at-risk readers.  Coley and Hoffman (1990) selected six “at risk” sixth grade students who were receiving remedial reading for their case study.  To qualify, the students had to be involved in the program for a minimum of 2 years.  It was assumed that such students would lack expressed confidence in their abilities as they have experienced setbacks in their academic journeys.  The conditions the students were introduced to consisted of three parts: 1) question response cues, double entry/response journals, and 3) self-evaluation.  Based on their findings, the students were able to express more confidence in their abilities and viewed themselves more positively (Coley et al., 1990).

Being a student myself, I can imagine the way the sixth graders felt in that situation.  If I experienced difficulty and had a hard time changing this outcome, it would be pretty hard for me to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.”  Sometimes it takes an intervention, such as the one described, to help individuals to see that their situation can change.  Just like their perspectives and confidence improved, the same result can occur in other situations.

Langer and Rodin (1976) and Kane et al. (2007) found that elderly patients who maintained control of their day-to-day lives, with activities and the like, experienced health benefits that differed from similar patients in a nursing home and/or a more restrictive setting.  Kane et al. (2007) noted that patients in the experimental condition had lower incidents of bed rest than those in the other two conditions.  And Langer et al. (1976) reported that patients in the experimental group reported increases in happiness, which was significantly more than the comparison group.  Obviously, both studies worked against learned helplessness and enabled patients to be active rather than passively involved.  Although the studies differed in implementation, both the overall objectives and outcomes resulted in positive changes.

With the examples shared, the response to my questions would be that learned helplessness can change and this has been successfully demonstrated in several instances.  While it may not be easy to exercise hope in situations that seem impossible, with a little help in realigning this thought process, this this too can change.



Coley, J. D., & Hoffman, D. M. (1990). Overcoming learned helplessness in at-risk readers. Journal of Reading, 33(7), 497-502.

Kane, R. A., Lum, T. Y., Cutler, L. J., Degenholtz, H. B. & Yu, T.-C. (2007). Resident Outcomes in Small-House Nursing Homes: A Longitudinal Evaluation of the Initial Green House Program. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 55, 832–839. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2007.01169.x

Langer, E. J., & Rodin, J. (1976). The effects of choice and enhanced personal responsibility for the aged: A field experiment in an institutional setting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34(2), 191-198. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.34.2.191

Schneider, F., Gruman, J., & Coutts, L. (Eds.). (2012). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

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