The idea of the smoking person portrayed in public health has been criticised as being based on too narrow a view of human nature. This article discusses that view: that of a person with a stable core and epiphenomenal ‘behaviours’ that can be removed by rational persuasion or Pavlovian manipulation, and examines social scientific critiques of it. The social sciences explore the meanings smoking has for individuals and portray human identity as malleable, the result of ongoing interactions with human and non-human others. Aspects of smokers’ experience revealed in qualitative research – descriptions of cigarettes as ‘companions’ or ‘friends’, deep reliance, sensual pleasure – are sometimes difficult to articulate but can be given full voice in the context of the literary arts. We explore some examples of these sources and argue that a complete picture of smoking meanings is impossible without reference to them. We take a pragmatic approach, following the philosopher William James, who argued that emotional and spiritual experiences contribute to the truth of human existence as much as material explanations, to suggest that this understanding should be part of a critical but supportive engagement with public health research in order to develop more nuanced and humane approaches to smoking cessation.
Smoking, Medical humanities, Humanities, Public health, Human nature.
Accepted Journal Article
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