Cigarette Smoking Becomes Deviant?

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Some people feel that our society is moving toward regarding cigarette smoking as deviant. Before determining whether it is true or not, there is a need to define what is deviant. According to the Oxford dictionary (2008), deviant means “different from what most people consider to be normal and acceptable” (p. 547). What does it mean? To tell what is deviant and how to determine if an act is deviant, different scholars would use different approaches, for example: biological, psychological, and sociological. In this paper, I would like to focus on the sociological theories.

Sociological theories
In the view of sociologists, deviant is relativistic. Deviant behaviours are behaviours that violate the accepted norms of the culture or subculture which they take place or exist. In regard to deviant, sociologists generated a few theories to explain it, for instance, anomie or strain theory, differential association theory, labelling theory, etc. But here, only labelling theory would be discussed. Labelling Theory

Labelling theory is focus on neither deviant behaviour nor deviant person but the process of a behaviour or person was defined as deviant. In the labelling theory, deviant behaviour is a product of group definitions. Whether or not an act is deviant, is not the behaviour itself, but how a particular group sees it and how people react to that behaviour and someone who enacts it. Labelling theory makes a distinction between primary and secondary deviance (Lemert, 1951). Primary deviance is people first violate social norms by chance or for unexplained reasons. If that behaviour does not negatively respond, it is not defined as deviant and the actors are not being labelled. But if that behaviour is defined as deviant, stigma would be attached to the actor. The labelled and stigmatized person may come to accept the label and change the self-image accordingly. Secondary deviance would therefore be resulted as a form of self-fulfilling prophecy.

As mentioned above, deviation is socially defined. Social norm is well-known to be varied from time to time, from place to place. So, the definition of what is deviant is varied in the same manner. Polygamy, “marriage that unites a person with two or more spouses” (Macionis, 2010, p.463) , was allowed in China centuries ago. But this practice is now forbidden, not only in Hong Kong, but also many other countries, for example, US. However, it is still permitted in many counties in Africa. Homosexual, once thought to be sacred in Greece, but now most people would think it is a form of sexual deviance, even though marriage between homosexuals is presently allowed in some countries.

Proven by the above examples, social norm is varied from time to time, from place to place, so does smoking. Let us see how the attitude towards smoking is changed in Hong Kong.

Why smoke?
Before linking cigarette smoking and deviant, it might be a good idea to ask why people smoke. Functionalist mentions that cigarette smoking give people a sense of belonging. People smoke to retain membership in social group. So, even the result of the first-time smoking is unpleasant, they smoke to gain social acceptance. And gradually, they take pleasure from not only social acceptance, but also from nicotine. They reinforce the smoking behavior. After that, smokers develop tolerance, i.e. “the need for increasing amounts of cigarette in order to get high” (A. Humphrey, 2006, p.169), for nicotine (Tepperman, 2010). Also, differential association theory stated that behavior, either normal or deviant behavior, is learnt through interaction. Smoking is very likely to be a learnt behavior. Although it had been widely advertised that cigarette smoking is harmful, no immediate effect is shown. Unlike other deviant behaviors, immediate effect is usually shown, for example, drunk – traffic collision; drug abuse – slowed thinking, impaired coordination (A. Humphrey,...
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