Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. James C. Petersen

Second Advisor

Dr. Ronald Kramer

Third Advisor

Dr. Gerald E. Markle

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Joseph Ellin


This study focused on the changing norms regarding cigarette smoking. Banned by a number of states in the early 1930s, the behavior was socially and legally accepted during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s only to once again become the object of public approbation and official sanctions in the 1970s. Examining events in both time periods, this research attempted to determine how and why this behavior came to be defined as deviant.

In explaining the negative public attitudes toward and official restrictions of the habit some commentators had cited the medical evidence that smoking has deleterious health consequences while others had suggested that anti-smoking strictures were the product of status battles between smokers and nonsmokers. These two explanations were interpreted as approximating two theoretical frameworks found in sociological literature. The medical explanation was seen as representing the strain model offered by social factist scholars while the status group conflict view more closely resembles the social definitionist approach to social phenomena. Strain, defined as a discrepancy among the system's elements, was seen as present when research reports claimed that an acceptable behavior pattern was harmful to health. The strain model suggested that the increase in research reports led to the redefinition of cigarette smoking. By contrast, the status group conflict model suggested that the redefinition of cigarette smoking was the product of interest group interaction.

These two explanations were evaluated through analysis of government documents, interest group publications, public opinion survey data, mass media records, and personal interview data. The findings for the early 1900s and the current controversy indicate that in both time periods, health allegations against the cigarette were prominent. Yet in both instances, these allegations were not sufficient to bring about new restrictions. Only after specific interest groups took up the cause and used the health argument to support their interests was smoking defined as inappropriate.

In terms of the strain and status group conflict models, this study found neither one to be a complete explanation. While strain clearly was not directly related to the redefinition of smoking as deviant, it was also clear that interest groups were able to realize the restrictions because of the existence of strain. In other words, this study shows that strain was the necessary condition while interest groups taking up the cause provided the sufficient conditions for the definition of smoking as deviant. At the same time it was noted that the pro-smoking forces were able to have the restrictive measures of the early 1900s reversed by marshalling additional resources in the 1920s. In conclusion it was suggested that similar developments seem to be occurring today as the tobacco industry has begun to mobilize more resources in the conflict.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

Included in

Sociology Commons