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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Developing a nonsmoker image : making smoke-free decisions to consolidate a social identity in early adolescence Swanson-Holm, Dorothy Roberta


"Developing a Nonsmoker Image" is a substantive middle range theory that outlines the most salient issues, patterns of concern, experiences, and actions of how young self-identified nonsmokers made personal decisions about tobacco use/non-use during the early stage of adolescent development. Smoking was perceived as a hindrance to a consolidated social identity and toward meeting a need for independence. This study, informed by constructivist and interactionist perspectives, was conducted according to the grounded theory method of research. The purposive sample consisted of 11 boys and 17 girls in grades 5 to 9 (10-14 years) representing diversity in smoking exposure profiles. Participants were White, English-speaking Canadians who attended public elementary or middle schools in British Columbia. Grades 5 and 6 participants reported never trying smoking (never smoker) whereas six of the 14 middle school participants reported trying smoking (trier). Data were collected according to a school-based approach via in-depth individual interviews. Each of these 28 informants were interviewed twice. All interviews were audio taped and transcribed verbatim to form the primary basis for data analysis. Informants spoke in voices that were rich, confident, straightforward, and honest. As well, a draw-and-write task, specifically designed for this study, was used during the interactive interview process. These drawings provided an additional cognitive perspective, adding enrichment to informants' stories. Artwork was examined for content, general tone, and participants' feelings in relation to written narratives that accompanied drawings. Artwork represented personal smoking-related images, smoke-free strategies, and anti-smoking signification which tapped a natural, powerful ability to think about complex ideas and smoking-related issues through analogic and metaphoric language. To develop a nonsmoker image, participants needed to deconstruct their perceptions of smoker images - these revealed interpersonal social dimensions (appearance, activity, alcohol and drugs, rebellion) and intrapersonal psychological dimensions (affect, control, pride, intelligence). Resultant images formed a foundation to reconstruct a nonsmoker identity. Accordingly, four separate identity profiles emerged from thematic analyses: the adamant nonsmoker, the reserved/indifferent nonsmoker, the committed nonsmoker, and the committed empathic nonsmoker. To manage transitions from childhood to early adolescence, the basic social-psychological phenomenon, participants developed an integrated nonsmoker identity through social comparative judgements and cognitive processes. Conceptual categories and processes were inductively derived through constant comparative analyses represented by two major categories, Creating Meaning about Smoking and Reaching Commitedness about Nonsmoking; the core variable, Developing a Nonsmoker Image led to discovery of the basic social process. Important aspects about tobacco-related decisions and nonsmoker image development entailed maintaining an autonomous perspective and communicating a point of view (e.g., free choice, self-assertion), using communication patterns to express the notion of separateness (how one is different from others), and declaring personal desires, concerns, intentions, and preferences (e.g., self-control, self-efficacy, self-confidence). As a consequence of being exposed to everyday smoking situations, participants went through the established processes between themselves, family members, and others within their social-cultural contexts. The most important conditions - having social support, accepting and recognizing one's nonsmoker identity by self/others, and keeping mind/body busy with nonsmoking-related activities influenced transition throughout the entire process. This research emphasized the vantage point of the early adolescent as a way to improve our understanding of patterns of difference concerning social comparative processes and shared judgements in their smoking-related decisions. Supporting data are provided to enable appreciation for early adolescent nonsmoker perspectives and evaluate the implications for education, families, and tobacco control research. In light of the scholarly literature on early adolescents and smoking prevention, participants' accounts suggest that educative programming for health promotion needs an approach that respects early adolescents as a unique and separate group of interest and considers cognitive developmental levels. Recommendations address school-based health promotion intervention programs and educational health psychology research that consider the every day lived reality of adolescent life, an objective that has potential to work effectively with teens toward healthful living through a critical developmental period.

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