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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

"Immortal but frightened"-smoking adolescents' perceptions on smoking uptake and prevention

Maria Nilsson* and Maria Emmelin

Author Affiliations

Dept of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University, SE-901 87 Umeå, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:776  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-776

Published: 21 December 2010



To curb the tobacco epidemic a combination of comprehensive interventions are needed at different levels. Smoking uptake is a multi-factorial process that includes societal factors as well as social and individual characteristics. An understanding of the process is essential in order to model interventions. The aim of this study was to explore the role of smoking for young smokers by focusing on the mechanisms that facilitate young people starting to smoke as well as what could have prevented them from starting.


A qualitative research design using focus group discussions was chosen as the basis for a content analysis approach. Eight focus groups were conducted with five to six participants in each (four groups with boys, four with girls). The informants were purposively selected to represent smokers in the age range of 15-16 years within the county. The total number of group participants was 44; 21 were girls and 23 boys. The study was performed at 7-9th grade schools in Västerbotten County in northern Sweden.


Three themes related to different aspects of youth smoking behaviour emerged from the analysis. Theme 1) "gaining control" reflects what makes young people become smokers; theme 2) "becoming a part of the self" focuses on what facilitates youths to start smoking; theme 3) "concerned adults make a difference" indicates what may prevent them from starting.


Young smokers described starting to smoke as a means of gaining control of feelings and situations during early adolescence. Smoking adolescents expect adults to intervene against smoking. Close relations with concerned adults could be a reason for less frequent smoking or trying to quit smoking. Interventions aimed at normative changes, with consistent messages from both schools and parents about the negative aspects of tobacco seem to be a feasible approach for preventing youth from using tobacco.