Young smokers' narratives: Public health, disadvantage and structural violence

Sue Lewis, Andrew Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This research article on youth smoking in disadvantaged communities is the product of a qualitative study to understand the issues faced by young smokers – and those trying not to be smokers – in such communities. Environmental factors and peer influence are widely recognised influences on adolescents’ take‐up and continuation of smoking but less is known about whether, what, how and why circumstances in disadvantaged communities affect young people’s pathways towards and away from smoking. Focusing on a youth club in a disadvantaged neighbourhood in the North East of England, narratives about young people’s relationships with tobacco provide an ethnographically rich, thick description of the experiences of a group that is too often easily ignored. We argue that young people are caught between competing domains that together exert a form of structural violence. These are, first, the economic and political structures that have overseen de‐industrialisation; second, the media structures that create desire for what they cannot afford; third the structures of international organised crime that conspire to provide them with the means to consume from which ‘legitimate’ structures effectively exclude them. Rather than expecting young people to comply with the health imperative, interventions need to bridge issues of agency and critical consciousness, which structural violence otherwise insidiously erodes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)746-760
JournalSociology of Health & Illness
Issue number5
Early online date12 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2013


  • smoking
  • young people
  • structural violence
  • tobacco control
  • thick description


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