In most of western civilization, smoking rates have dropped. But in Spanish society cigarette use among women has gone up in the last 50 years.
A study carried out at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Granada has examined, both at a quantitative and a qualitative level, the reasons for the increase - and it's about men, they say.
According to the study, cigarettes have become very important for women in order to;
- face up to stress and anxiety
- control appetite and body weight
- facilitate interaction in social relations
- assert independence
In that sense, they are used as a tool to get closer to men and to get in touch with them in sexual and amorous interactions. It has also been proved that women use tobacco as a sexual metaphor. Apart from this, the use of cigarettes is symbolic of power and strength when facing unbalanced situations between sexes and male dominance.
This research was conducted by María Luisa Jiménez Rodrigo, who is currently working at the University of Seville, and was led by lecturer Juan Francisco Gamella Mora. A qualitative fieldwork had to be performed in order to carry out this study. This fieldwork was performed by in-depth individual interviews, organization of discussion groups, structured interviews, participant observation, and analysis of the tobacco advertising. This study reveals that the use of cigarettes has attained new and specific meanings in women’s daily life.
Therefore, smoking has a series of relative advantages for women, organized into several dimensions: emotional, corporal, social, symbolic and as an expression of power and strength.
Both surveys and indicators show how the number of women smokers is increasingly high. However, “a qualitative dimension has been observed in this phenomenon, so that the adoption of the use of cigarettes among women can not be properly understood without it”, according to the author of this research. During the last 50 years the symbolic and cultural elements that shape the social depiction of the practice of smoking and the image of women smokers have changed.
Jiménez Rodrigo states that the use of cigarettes is no longer considered to be a privilege enjoyed by men, and condemned by society when a woman did so, but now it is a normal and acceptable act, and fits in well with the common conception of femininity.
Jiménez Rodrigo explains that women started to use tobacco with a specific product - the industrially produced cigarette made from Virginia tobacco. Unlike pipes, cigars and dark tobacco, this product is believed to be compatible with femininity at pharmacological and social levels. Tobacco companies have played a decisive role in this process.
“Smoking has become compatible with the social demands imposed upon women. Cigarettes are used by women in order to relax, to avoid gaining weight, and to appear attractive, mature and feminine. It even helps them to pick up men”, emphasizes the author.
In spite of this, stress and anxiety are strongly linked to the use of cigarettes among women. They have to face potentially stressful situations every day as a result of working days with no breaks, family and work role conflicts, unstable and discriminatory situations, or violence and social isolation. Jiménez Rodrigo states that “on a whole, smoking is one of their safety valves to face up to stress. In addition, it is considered to act as a unique relaxant because of its effects, its availability and its accessibility”.
Apart from this, smoking in order to achieve weight control has become increasingly popular among women, particularly among young women. The use of cigarettes to regulate appetite is related to the promotion of thinness as the ideal female form in Western industrialised nations. Jiménez Rodrigo stresses that the use of cigarettes has a great social and collective importance to women since it is present in both their daily lives and other different contexts in which they are participating en masse, particularly education, work and leisure. Moreover, it plays an important social role as it facilitates social relations by increasing their self-confidence and the number of chances to establish social relations and to integrate into a certain group.
Another significant reason has to do with sexual attraction and seduction, although these reasons are more important during adolescence and youth. Smoking is an easy way of coming into contact with men and showing them an attractive “image”. Therefore, cigarettes are used as means of drawing male attention to female sexuality, which fits in with the cultural parameters that emphasize the value of love and sexual achievement as the main elements of female success.
Some of the results of this research were presented at the Ninth Spanish Conference on Sociology and have been published in the Liberaddictus journal.