Explaining the social gradient in smoking and cessation: the peril and promise of social mobility

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Smoking in high-income countries is now concentrated in poor communities whose relatively high smoking prevalence is explained by greater uptake but above all by lower quit rates. Whilst a number of barriers to smoking cessation have been identified, this is the first paper to situate cessation itself as a classed and cultural practice. Drawing on ethnographic research carried out in a working-class community in the North of England between 2012 and 2015, I theorise smoking cessation as a symbolic practice in relation to the affective experience of class and social mobility. I show that ambivalence about upward mobility as separation and loss translated into ambivalence about smoking cessation. The reason for this was that the social gradient in smoking operated dynamically at the level of the individual life course, i.e. smoking cessation followed upward mobility. A serious health problem was an appropriate reason to quit but older women continued to smoke despite serious health problems. This was linked to historical gender roles leading to women placing a low priority on their own health as well as the intergenerational reproduction of smoking through close affective links with smoking parents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-578
Number of pages14
JournalSociology of Health & Illness
Issue number3
Early online date25 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2020


  • Smoking cessation
  • Health inequalities
  • Class
  • Social mobility
  • Bourdieu
  • Gender


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