Giving up smoking

Changing culture, public health campaigns and the smoking ban

The ban on smoking in public places came into effect in Scotland in 2006 and in the rest of the UK in 2007 (the Republic of Ireland introduced its ban in 2004). People we talked to felt that the ban had made it very clear that the public disapproved of smoking. Some thought that smokers were ‘persecuted’, but others were delighted that the ban had come into force recognising how much nicer it was to go to bars as a non-smoker. Some people thought the smoking ban had probably made it easier to give up.

Many people were increasingly aware of the ‘negative’ image smoking could portray. Many felt increasingly guilty when smoking, and others also made them feel guilty. Khan thought that the media portray smoking as a ‘chav’ thing and something done by people with ‘nothing better to do’. Some people were irritated by the health advice they received and thought it was counter-productive for doctors to blame so many ills on smoking.
Changes over the years: before the ban

In the 1950s, 60s and 70s it was common for people to be able to smoke in places like offices and in cinemas, and some people remembered that when people complained about smoking indoors they were thought of as ‘wet blankets’.
Caroline remembered being able to smoke in the bank where she worked in the 1980s, but later she could smoke only in a back office. Roger likewise could at work in council offices at around the same time. Older people could remember smoking going on ‘everywhere’ when they were young. Some, like Anna and Laura, had been very ‘anti-smoking’ as children.

People remembered smoking in environments where smoking was the “norm” even comparatively recently and marvelled at how different the culture is now.
Public health campaigns

Anti-smoking ads on TV and on bill boards have been around for many years. Messages such as ‘Smoking Kills’ on cigarette packets have been EU law since 1991, yet to many people they seemed to be less memorable than the cigarette ads (which were completely banned in 2002). Often people couldn’t quite place how they had come to know that smoking harmed their health; some remembered a lesson at school or a poster they had once seen. Many who grew up to smoke later in life had been firmly against smoking as children. Laura’s Mum and Dad said she could be embarrassing as a young child as she would ‘waft her arms around’ and ‘made a scene’ if anybody was smoking nearby.
People told us that they had actively ignored health warnings about smoking or got used to them. Caroline, for example, talked through anti-smoking ads on TV to distract her kids when they were in the room.
People also found ways to convince themselves that the warnings about smoking did not apply to them. Val said that she knew the risks but didn’t think they applied to her.
The smoking ban

Smoking bans were controversial at the time and several people remembered thinking that the ban was an example of the ‘nanny state’. Yet many of those who were still smoking at the time of the ban understood the reasons, and looking back, nearly all thought it had been a good idea. Many also recognised that the ban was one of the changes that had helped them to give up.
After having given up, some people like Khan, Miles, Gareth and Munir didn’t think that the smoking ban went far enough, and wished that cigarettes had disappeared.

However, others regretted the ban and thought that smokers should be given nicer places to smoke and should still have the right to smoke. Oddly Sue’s smoking became more ‘ritualistic’ as she had to plan when to smoke, and so thought more about cigarettes. Cassie just ended up smoking much more at home.
Chris thought that smokers should have somewhere to go to have a cigarette and not be made to stand outside as if they were ‘naughty children’.
(Also see ‘The image of smoking and smoking in secret’, ‘Unsolicited advice from health professionals, family and friends’ and ‘Parents, friends and first cigarettes’).

Since these interviews there has been further legislation in the UK against smoking:
  • Age at which tobacco products could be purchased increased from 16 to 18 years old
  • Picture warnings of the harm of smoking introduced on cigarette packets.
  • Sale of tobacco from vending machines banned.
  • Tobacco displays banned in large stores.
  • Ban on smoking in cars carrying children.
  • Standardised packaging rolled out across UK.

​Last reviewed August 2018.
Last updated August 2018.


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