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Tell them you smoke, you’ll get more breaks”: a qualitative study of occupational and social contexts of young adult smoking in Scotland
  1. Hannah Delaney1,
  2. Andrew MacGregor1,
  3. Amanda Amos2
  1. 1 ScotCen Social Research, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2 Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Amanda Amos; Amanda.Amos{at}


Objective To explore young adults’ perceptions and experiences of smoking and their smoking trajectories in the context of their social and occupational histories and transitions, in a country with advanced tobacco control.

Design Indepth qualitative interviews using day and life grids to explore participants’ smoking behaviour and trajectories in relation to their educational, occupational and social histories and transitions.

Setting Scotland.

Participants Fifteen ever-smokers aged 20–24 years old in 2016–2017.

Results Participants had varied and complex educational/employment histories. Becoming and/or remaining a smoker was often related to social context and educational/occupational transitions. In several contexts smoking and becoming a smoker had perceived benefits. These included getting work breaks and dealing with stress and boredom, which were common in the low-paid, unskilled jobs undertaken by participants. In some social contexts smoking was used as a marker of time out and sociability.

Conclusions The findings indicate that while increased tobacco control, including smokefree policies, and social disapproval of smoking discourage smoking uptake and increase motivations to quit among young adults, in some social and occupational contexts smoking still has perceived benefits. This finding helps explain why smoking uptake continues into the mid-20s. It also highlights the importance of policies that reduce the perceived desirability of smoking and that create more positive working environments for young adults which address the types of working hours and conditions that may encourage smoking.

  • qualitative research
  • young adults
  • smoking

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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  • Contributors AA and AM conceived the study and designed the methods. AM oversaw participant recruitment. All authors read the transcripts and developed the analysis. HD drafted the manuscript with critical contributions from AA and AM in revised versions.

  • Funding This work was supported by a Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Tobacco Advisory Grant (TAG) award (grant reference number: A21556).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethical approval was obtained from NatCen (National Centre for Social Research) Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data available.

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