Well, I’ve decided to change things up a bit from my original “plan of attack” with my blog.
I want to start with some research that I did as an undergraduate at USF for Dr. Messing’s Language and Culture course last Spring.
My reasoning for presenting my research earlier than expected is that I will be attending the Anthropological Contributions to International Smoking Cessation: Project Quit Tobacco International, on Friday and I believe that I will have a lot to say about it.
I’d like to start off with a two disclaimers: First, I am not an advocate of smoking- I think it is a horrible habit and would love to see everyone successfully quit (including myself). Second, I am a smoker, so this could be seen as emic research. It also could be seen as critics as subjective research. This idea could be another post in itself, and most likely will be. I’m a post-modernist, in that I believe most (I won’t be so bold as to say all) social science research is subjective. I’ve done my best to be as objective as I can be, however, this was my first serious research project and I am young and inexperienced.
The title of my article as it was posted in the USF Journal of Undergraduate Research, Conjure Volume 1 Issue 2 Fall 2005 is Justification of Smokers as a Subculture Established through Linguistic Analysis and Participant Observation.
Here is a brief synopsis of my research thus far (the entire article will be posted in the “extended entry” section below).
Obviously, I believe that smokers make up a subculture (in America) and here is some of my reasoning:
Smokers have non-verbal ques of communication, i.e. when the last smoker of a group finishes the group will tend to disperse from the spot and this is a cue that non-smokers in the group will not pick up on.
Smokers have a focal vocabulary, which can be understood or known by non-smokers, but almost all smokers I have spoken to will understand. i.e. “bumming” a cigarette or cigarette karma.
Another aspect of the subculture: Smoking as a social tool:
Smokers can use “smoke breaks” as ways of breaking off (or away from) a larger group or task to talk alone.
Smokers use smoking as a way to occupy themselves when alone.
Smokers can use smoking as a segue into other’s conversation.
Smokers appear to not like to smoke alone and will congregate with other smokers that are strangers, thereby, having “safety in numbers” and people to talk to.
Smokers are a stigmatized group in America. It appears to be acceptable to walk up to someone and tell them that smoking will kill them, whereas it would be completely unacceptable to walk up to an obese person who is eating a bag of Doritos and tell them that junk food will kill them (I know that may seem harsh- but it is the quintessential example). I believe that smokers tend to feel safety in numbers and comfortable around non-smokers because they are with others that are not judging them for it.
AND my last comment and my favorite aspect of this research (perhaps a potential thesis?) is that constraints enforced by society, i.e. no smoking laws, appear to enforce smokers being a subculture. The no smoking laws passed in Florida made it unlawful to smoke in most buildings, and as a result ashtrays were placed outside and near most entrances of buildings. Smokers tend to smoke around these ashtrays, perhaps because of the convenience of it. It is in this confined and created space that smokers will interact with each other, maybe eventually plan to meet. If it was not for this confined space, smokers may not be encouraged to be in the same place and may not create a bond with another.
I have been a cigarette smoker for four of my twenty-two years of life. Much like other smokers, I started because my friends smoked. However, I didn’t start because of peer pressure; I started because my friends enjoyed smoking. I managed to quit for three years, surprisingly easily. Quitting was easy the first time because I started hanging out with a new group of friends, and none of them smoked. Without anyone to enjoy a cigarette with me, smoking seemed less appealing. I started smoking again because I moved in with two smokers, both of whom would take smoke breaks outside together. I felt left out. I thought to myself, “What are they talking about and I want to be part of it.” Even today, three years later, I smoke less when I’m by myself or around non-smokers and more when I’m with other smokers. For me, smoking is a very social practice.
For the paper, I will use ‘smoker’ as defined by Princeton’s online Wordnet 2.0 Search, “(a) tobacco user — (a person who smokes tobacco)” (2005). I will also use Karl G. Heider’s definition of a subculture: “(a) convenient and nonderogatory way to refer to various cultural patterns shared by smaller numbers of people within a broader culture (2004:46).” I believe that smokers do in fact make up a subculture within the United States. I will discuss my methodology and conflicts encountered during data collection, reasons why I believe that smokers are a subculture, and give ethnographic examples. I believe that there are many influences, other than those of chemical addiction, that influence a smoker’s behavior; some of them being the non-smoking laws that have been passed and the use of cigarettes as a social tool.
For my data collection I used observation at the University of South Florida, Four Green Fields (a small bar frequented by locals of the neighborhood) in Hyde Park, Florida, and the Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I used participant observation and a voice recorder to tape conversations at the University of South Florida, Four Green Fields in Hyde Park, Florida, Gray’s College Bookstore™ in Tampa, Florida, the Sleeping Dog (a bar) in the Plaza of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Albuquerque airport. I have carried my tape recorder with me for the last two months with the intention of recording conversations of smokers. However, much to my surprise about 25% of my recordings were serendipitous in that I was talking with smokers not intending to collect data and got some of my best discourse.
After choosing the topic of smokers as a subculture, I was surprised to find out that there is not a lot of published literature about the topic. This was my first obstacle with the research. While recording, I was met with much enthusiasm from other smokers. I would briefly explain my hypothesis for my research paper, and the smokers would volunteer their ideas and opinions about the subject. It was very easy to collect data, because smokers tend to gather in
defined areas and tend to be very social, both of which will be discussed further in the paper.
The second problem I encountered while doing my research was during the data collection process: the amount of smoking I did. As I previously mentioned, I tend to smoke more when I’m around other smokers, and for this reason, I became less enthused about data collection about two weeks into it and did less.
The laws that have been passed restricting smokers from smoking inside office buildings, schools, restaurants and various other public places made the air inside the buildings cleaner and safer for everyone to breathe. However, the laws did more than provide a healthier environment, the laws led to the creation of defined spaces for smokers to smoke in public. The defined spaces are signified by ashtrays. Most public buildings now accommodate smokers by providing ashtrays outside for people to put out their cigarettes. While it is not illegal to smoke outside and away from the ashtrays, most smokers tend to congregate in the near vicinity of the ashtrays. I’ve witnessed this all over the University of South Florida campus, at Gray’s College Bookstore™ and a park in the Plaza in Santa Fe.
While it does appear common for Americans that are defined by spaces to strike up casual conversations with strangers, I have observed that smokers tend to congregate in larger groups, thus leading to casual conversations amongst more strangers. The strangers that one smokes with may become friends after a few smoke breaks, if the strangers continue to take smoke breaks at the same time. Take the example of myself and a few other anthropology undergraduates at the University of South Florida. I started this semester without very many friends in the department. I would go outside of the Social Science building to smoke, either between classes or during breaks from class. I continually saw the same students outside and continually engaged in idle chit chat for weeks. Now, I must point out, some (but not all) of the students were in my classes as well, so we had more than smoking in common. The weeks of idle chit chat turned into friendly conversation and 16 weeks later, I consider my smoking buddies to be friends.
The laws passed banning smoking from inside buildings have done more than lead smokers to smoke outside in defined spaces. Another result of the laws has been for smokers to have an excuse to go outside, out of ear shot of other people. I have found this to be particularly important at Gray’s College Bookstore™. Most of the directors, managers, and assistant managers in the store smoke. I have observed on many occasions the management asking one another if they want to smoke. This is known throughout the store as a code for, “I have something I need to talk to you about, alone”. The excuse to go outside and smoke makes private conversations easier to have. Non-smokers do not appear to have a discreet way to remove themselves from the group to converse privately.
Another interesting point to smokers taking a smoke break together, friends or strangers, is the length of the conversation. Smokers that are breaking, be it to get away from whatever they are doing or to converse, appear to regulate the length of their conversations by the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. From what I have observed, it takes most smokers five to six minutes to smoke. When the last smoker of the group is finished with their cigarettes, the group seems to take it as a cue to get back to whatever they were doing prior to smoking. If the smokers want to break longer or converse more, then one or more will hold their pack of cigarettes in their hands or sometimes ask if anyone wants to smoke another. While doing my data collection, I rarely observed anyone in the group. What do you mean by this? It appears that the end of a cigarette signifies the end of the break or conversation. The length of conversation and the signal of the conversation being over, with the putting out of a cigarette, is a cue that most non-smokers do not appear to understand. While I was collecting data, I experienced as well as witnessed conversations with non-smokers where the last cigarette was put out and the non-smoker appeared slightly confused when everyone walked away without announcing they were walking away.
Another aspect that appears to be common to most smokers is that smokers do not like to smoke alone. This is perhaps why strangers that smoke in defined areas strike up a conversation, although I think that the conversations between strangers in defined spaces is not unique to smokers. Smoking gives smokers an opportunity to meet other people easily because they are constantly moving to defined spaces. In every place that I observed the activities of smokers, someone that wanted to smoke would ask another smoker if they wanted to go outside with them. A lot of smokers admit that they do not like to smoke alone. I believe this is the case for a few reasons. The first reason is that smokers know that a smoke break has potential for good conversation. The second reason is that if more than one smoker is going out on a smoke break the other smokers know they miss out on something being discussed. It appears that non-smokers do not realize what smokers talk about on breaks. They are missing out on anything and therefore do not care about going out with the smokers. Hmmm. Maybe something like “they do not know they are missing out on anything… The third reason is that smoking in groups gives the smokers power. Smokers are a stigmatized group in America because second hand smoke is a very dangerous and pollutant. It is very common for a non-smoker to discriminate openly against someone that is smoking. However, if there is a group of smokers, there is less of a chance for discrimination.
Smoking also gives smokers a way to pass time. While walking around the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus, I noticed a lot of people sitting by themselves. People who were not smoking were preoccupied doing something to pass the time. Most students were reading, listening to music, writing, or most popularly talking on their cell phone. Sitting and waiting is usually an awkward situation; what do you do with yourself? Smokers have the option of smoking to occupy themselves while waiting .
The identity of a smoker is very interesting. Smokers tend to only identify as a smoker while around other smokers. Being a smoker certainly gives the smoker an association with the larger population of smokers, but this identification only appears to be important when the smoker is around other smokers, or potentially when a smoker is around non-smokers and wants to smoke. Most smokers appear to be both social and generous. The generosity is demonstrated in part by an important part of smoking culture, “cigarette karma”. Cigarette karma is giving (or as a smoker would say, “bumming”) a cigarette to a smoker that does not have any cigarettes, and thereby justifying asking someone else for a cigarette when you are out of smokes (cigarettes). Another aspect of cigarette karma that is interesting, yet usually not talked about, is that the receiver of the free cigarette usually hangs out with the giver of the cigarette for the time span of smoking. If someone asks for a cigarette, gets one, and walks away, the giver usually is confused. The receiver owes the giver five to six minutes of conversation in exchange for a cigarette. This exchange is also seen when someone asks for the use of a lighter, but to a lesser extent.
Smoking gives smokers a chance to converse with other smokers which, if the smoker is a social person, also gives them a chance to participate in an activity they would enjoy. Also, by smoking, a smoker can keep up with the gossip of what’s going on in school or work or get the inside information at work . If a smoker stops smoking, they will face the difficulties of overcoming nicotine addiction. However, there are many potential social factors to face as well. A smoker trying to quit smoking will have to find another place to take a break at, another way to get the gossip or confidential information shared at school or work, and another way to pass the time .
In conclusion, I believe that smokers create a subculture in America because they are a small, somewhat stigmatized group of people that can identify with other smokers. The bond that smokers have with each other is reiterated through bumming cigarettes to another smoker that is out of smokes, conversing with strangers and passing time together. Moreover, smoking can be viewed as a social tool in that it gives smokers a way to meet other smokers, have an excuse to take a break, converse privately or to pass the time. All of the aforementioned topics can be combined to explain the culture of smokers.
Smokers clearly have a chemical dependency to smoking. However, after doing my research, I have found that smokers may have an equal dependency to the social aspects of smoking.
Heider, Karl G. 2004. Seeing Anthropology: Cultural Anthropology through Film. 3rd edition. Boston: Pearson.
Princeton University. WordNet 2.0 Search.
http://www.cogsci.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/webwn?stage=1. Date Visited: April 28, 2005.
Additional Discourse Analysis as Referenced in the Body of the Paper
.. A pause of one second
– Overlapping speech
(signal) Body Language
This is a Conversation that took place between me and Dave at Four Green Fields on March 31, 2005 around 8:00 p.m. I approached Dave at the bar because he was sitting alone, smoking and drinking a mixed drink. I asked him if he was a social smoker, one who only smokes around or with people, or if he was a real smoker. He answered that he was a real smoker. This segment below is a part of the conversation we had.
Jen: What do you think is the main difference between smokers and non-smokers?
Dave: .. .. uh, ..smokers want to quit, but smokers, uh.. ..typically.. .. .. I think anyway are more . Relaxed only because they have something going on, versus other people who don’t, their mind is moving a little quicker.
Jen: And what do you think would be the thing about quitting smoking?
Dave: Probably, uh.. .. urge. Physical urge.
Jen: When would that urge be most.. experienced?
Dave: – In a stressful situation and you.. .. want to take time to , take time to.. .. uh .. .. for me anyway.. everyone is different. And the second one would be a way to pass time….uh, when I’m in an environment when I’m not comfortable, I don’t’ know anyone around me
Jen: And would you find that to be in a social setting? When you’re uncomfortable like that?
Dave: because I’m an ###
Jen: Do you think it is easier, .. when you’re uncomfortable, to talk to other people who are smoking?.. Or does it really not matter?
Dave: Doesn’t matter ##.
This is a conversation that took place at Four Green Fields on March 30, 2005 between me and Michael around 8:30 p.m. I approached Michael because he was sitting outside on a picnic table smoking with a friend. The conversation was about smoking, this is one small segment.
Michael: .. .. What I was saying was I smoked for uh years. And than I for ten years, but the first six months when I quit, .. before.. we used to always go out on the balcony and smoke. And I’ve always been in management, so what I learned more about the people who were working with me, was the inside track, what was going on.. cause you know, when you’re out there smoking a cigarette, the conversation is like meaningless. when I say meaningless.. it’s it’s not like anyone is trying to hit you up for information because you’re a manager or whatever the case may be. .. they’re just talking at random. You really start to understand the grass roots of what’s going on in the business # , it’s to have conversation. But when I it was like.. .. what’s going on> It’s different. .. .. It’s very different.
Jen: So you got to know the people that were uh, .. not management more on a ?
Michael: – Absolutely..
Michael: Because they’ll say more on a smoke break than they’ll ever say .. you know.. inside the building.
Jen: Because you’re more of an equal on a smoke break #
This is a later segment of the same conversation as seen about in conversation B.
Michael: Right now, .. I have a peer in management.. .. and the both of us, the only time we get to talk about strategy is when we go out and have a cigarette. #### Because in the building we’re constantly slammed with projects and issues going on.. it’s like.. I do one of these (holds two fingers to lips to signify a cigarette break) and she says okay! And in that 15-20 minutes we get more accomplished that we do in four hours in the building.