Explanations of ethnic and gender differences in youth smoking: A multi-site, qualitative investigation

Robin Mermelstein, Michael P. Eriksen, Robert Robinson, Myra A. Crawford, George I. Balch, Sharon Feldman, Cheryl Alexander, Joel Gittelsohn, Sally M. Davis, Peg Allen, Sandra Headen, Tim McGloin, Beverly S. Kingsley, Michelle C. Kegler, Douglas Luke, John R. Ureda, Carol E. Rhegume, Steven Kelder, Laura K. McCormick, Clarence SpignerRobert H. Anderson, Melanie Booth-Butterfield, Kimberly Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Two of the most powerful predictors of adolescent smoking are ethnicity and gender, but little research has focused on understanding how these factors play a role in adolescent smoking. This paper reports results from a qualitative, multi-site investigation of explanations for ethnic and gender differences in cigarette smoking with five ethnic groups: whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian-American/Pacific Islanders. Across 11 states, we conducted 178 focus groups with a total of 1175 adolescents. The groups explored such major research themes as reasons for smoking and not smoking; images of smoking and smokers; messages youth receive about smoking and not smoking; and the social context of smoking. We synthesized data from the focus groups through multiple cross-site collaborations and discussions, with an emphasis on identifying consistent themes across a majority of groups and sites. Striking differences emerged across ethnic and gender sub-groups in reasons for not smoking. African-American females in particular viewed not smoking as a positive identity marker. Asian-American/Pacific Islander females similarly reported strong mandates not to smoke. Youth's perceptions of family messages about smoking also varied by ethnicity and gender, with African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American/Pacific Islander youth consistently reporting strong, clear anti-smoking messages from family. These findings, notable in their consistency across geographic regions, may shed light on the discrepant prevalence of smoking across ethnic and gender groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S91-S98
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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