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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Frances Thirlway

Thirlway, Frances (2018). How will e-cigarettes affect health inequalities? Applying Bourdieu to smoking and cessation. International Journal of Drug Policy 54: 99-104.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper uses the work of Bourdieu to theorise smoking and cessation through a class lens, showing that the struggle for distinction created the social gradient in smoking, with smoking stigma operating as a proxy for class stigma. This led to increased policy focus on the health of bystanders and children and later also to concerns about electronic cigarettes. Bourdieu’s concept of habitus is deployed to argue that the e-cigarette helps middle-class smokers resolve smoking as a symptom of cleft habitus associated with social mobility or particular subcultures. E-cigarette use is also compatible with family responsibility and sociable hedonism; aspects of working-class habitus which map to the ‘practical family quitter’ and the ‘recreational user’ respectively. The effectiveness of class stigma in changing health behaviours is contested, as is the usefulness of youth as a category of analysis and hence the relevance of concerns about young people’s e-cigarette use outside a class framework of smoking and cessation. With regard to health inequalities, whilst middle-class smokers have in class disgust a stronger incentive to quit than working-class smokers, there is potential for tobacco control to tap into a working-class ethos of family care and responsibility.