Open Access Research article

Tobacco use patterns in traditional and shared parenting families: a gender perspective

Joan L Bottorff1*, Mary T Kelly2, John L Oliffe3, Joy L Johnson3, Lorraine Greaves4 and Anna Chan5

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Health and Social Development, University of British Columbia, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

2 Nursing and Health Behaviour Research Unit, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

3 School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

4 System Strategy Division, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Province of Ontario, Canada

5 Nursing and Health Behaviour Research Unit, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:239  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-239

Published: 10 May 2010



Although researchers have focused on women's smoking during pregnancy and the postpartum period and the influence of household interactions on their tobacco reduction efforts, little attention has been given to parents' efforts to regulate smoking during the child-rearing years. The objective of this study was to examine how parenting young children and gender relations reflected in couple dynamics influence household tobacco use patterns and, specifically, women's tobacco reduction efforts.


As part of a longitudinal, grounded-theory study with 28 couples to examine the place of tobacco in the lives of new parents, each parent participated in one or two individual, semi-structured interviews during the first three years postpartum. Grounded theory methods and a gender relations framework were used to analyze transcribed data.


Two different parenting styles that couples adhered to were identified. These parenting styles reflected performances of femininities and masculinities, and were associated with particular smoking patterns. Traditional parenting reinforced by women's alignment with emphasized femininities and men's alignment with hegemonic masculinities placed women with smoking partners at risk for relapse. Women's actions to be supportive partners facilitated couples' continued smoking. In shared parenting dyads, egalitarian practices tended to support successful transitions to smoke-free homes. Women's ability to exert more influence around family decision making, and the acceptance of new masculine identities associated with fatherhood were influential. In non-smoking dyads where the mother, father, or both reduced or stopped smoking, we observed a subtext of potential conflict in the event either the mother or father relapsed.


Decisions about tobacco use are made within relationships and social contexts that vary based on each individual's relationship to tobacco, divisions of domestic labour and childcare, and other activities that impact tobacco use. Sensitive approaches to tobacco reduction for women and men must be developed building on greater understanding of gender relations and how tobacco use is integrated in spousal and parental roles.