Negotiating access to tobacco following the increase in the minimum age of sale in the UK: a study of young people from two disadvantaged communities in Scotland
Tjelta, Thomas Aleksander
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Creating a Tobacco Free Generation: a Tobacco Control Strategy for Scotland sets out the Scottish Government’s ambition to create a tobacco free generation of Scots by 2034. Smoking initiation occurs primarily in adolescence, and the national preventive strategy is correspondingly structured around a range of measures to reduce the availability, affordability and attractiveness of cigarettes and other tobacco products for children and young people. Primary among these are the increase in the minimum age of sale of tobacco from 16 to 18 years instituted in the UK in October 2007, and the ban on the display of tobacco and smoking related products in shops introduced in the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Scotland Act 2010. This thesis explores young people’s smoking and cigarette access behaviours in the context of the increase in the age of sale of tobacco from 16 to 18 years in 2007, and their perceptions and representations of cigarette brand image in the context of the impending ban on point of sale displays and in anticipation of the introduction of generic cigarette packaging in the UK. A combination of individual, paired and triadic interviews were undertaken with a total of 60 13-15 year old young people recruited from youth clubs and other third sector organisations in two disadvantaged communities in Edinburgh. Around half the participants were regular smokers – defined as smoking a cigarette a day or more – with the remainder reporting ‘occasional’ or ‘experimental’ smoking, defined as intermittent smoking or having tried smoking on one or more occasions. Interviews focussed on participants’ usual cigarette sources, ability to access tobacco, participants’ favoured cigarette brands and their perspectives on recent legislative measures to reduce the attractiveness of cigarettes and other tobacco products for children and young people. Despite the increase in the minimum age of sale, most participants sourced cigarettes from shops, either directly or through intermediaries, and few reported any difficulties securing regular access to tobacco. Retail purchases were described in terms of a progression from more to less targeted purchasing strategies, with those experiencing difficulties buying cigarettes directly employing a range of strategies to identify and target retailers amenable to selling cigarettes to underage customers. Proxy purchases, i.e. purchases made through intermediaries, represented the predominating mode of acquisition among participants, and were described in terms of a progression from less to more targeted third party recruitment strategies, with older and more experienced regular smokers learning to identify and target particular types of individual for proxy purchases. Participants also had recourse to tobacco from a range of social and illicit sources, including ‘fag houses’, although these were not routinely accessed. The diverse cigarette sources identified by participants were not perceived to be equivalent, however, but were rather represented in terms of the parallel acquisition of a range of smoking related competencies. Participants’ diverse modes of tobacco acquisition, as such, reflected not merely their smoking status, with rates of retail cigarette purchasing increasing with age and regular smoking, but their status as a smoker through building symbolic capital. Participants foregrounded their smoking related knowledge and competencies to frame themselves as more or less ‘autonomous’ smokers. In discussions about participants favoured cigarette brands, participants would similarly foreground their knowledge of a range of perceived brand characteristics to frame themselves as more or less ‘discerning’ smokers. The importance of cigarette access and branding in shaping participants’ smoking identities has clear implications for smoking prevention policy, in terms of challenging the implied equivalence between the diverse cigarette sources available to young people routinely implied in the youth access literature and underscoring the importance of limiting the visual cues in cigarette packaging and point of sale advertising that facilitate the continued use of cigarettes as an ‘identity tool’.