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Soc Sci Med. 2004 Jul;59(2):415-31.

Popular perceptions of tobacco products and patterns of use among male college students in India.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Emil Haury Building, P.O. Box 210030, Tucson, AZ, 85721-0030, USA.


This paper examines popular perceptions of tobacco products and describes patterns of use among college youth in Karnataka, India. Data are drawn from 25 key informant interviews and six focus groups with male and female college students, interviews with shopkeepers, observational data on youth tobacco consumption, and a college-based survey. The survey was administered to 1587 males attending eleven colleges. Forty-five percent (n = 716) of college students surveyed had used tobacco products. Thirty-six percent (n = 573) had tried cigarettes, 10% (n = 157) had tried bidis, and 18% (n = 290) had tried gutkha. Tobacco consumption among smokers was low; for daily smokers, the mean number of cigarettes smoked was 6 per day. Students attending professional colleges, including engineering, medicine, and law were significantly more likely to have ever smoked and to be daily smokers when compared to students enrolled in other courses of study. In interviews, male students noted that smoking a cigarette enhanced one's manliness, relieved boredom, and eased tension. Although female students interviewed were non-smokers, several suggested that in the future, smoking might be an acceptable behavior among college-going females. When asked about their perceptions of smoking among youth in Western countries, the majority of students believed that three-quarters of male and female youth in the West smoked. This perception has been largely formed through media images, including satellite television and films. With regard to addiction, it was widely believed that filter-tipped cigarettes were one of the most addictive products because they are made of better quality tobacco, and are milder and smoother to smoke. Therefore, a person could easily smoke more of them, which would lead to addiction. Another widely held belief was that the more expensive the cigarette, the less harmful it was for one's health.

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