Student and staff beliefs about smoking in further education settings: qualitative findings from a process evaluation

Micky Willmott, Beki Langford, Adam Fletcher

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Preventing young people from taking up smoking is crucial to maintain and accelerate recent declines in smoking rates. Most prevention efforts have focused on schools, with almost no research conducted in further education settings, despite 44% of regular smokers indicating that they started smoking between the ages of 16 and 19 years. Using data collected during the process evaluation of a smoking prevention feasibility trial in further education settings, we aimed to explore young people's beliefs and behaviour regarding smoking and smoking prevention in these contexts.

11 focus groups of students (n=69) and six of staff (19) were conducted in three further education institutions (two colleges, one school sixth form) in Wales between May 1 and Sept 30, 2015. Focus groups included between two and 13 participants selected by convenience sampling. The groups covered views on student smoking behaviour, perceptions of the intervention, and perceived impact on student and staff smoking behaviours. Discussions were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed in NVivo (version 10). All transcripts were coded line by line using a framework derived a priori from research questions and emergent indicative codes.

Students and staff expressed liberal, non-interventionist views about smoking. Though recognised as harmful, smoking was seen as a personal choice that should not be infringed, and students felt jaded by anti-smoking messages. Students used smoking behaviours to signify successful transition to adulthood—not by appearing grown-up, but by demonstrating their understanding of appropriate, responsible smoking behaviour (eg, protecting minors from second-hand smoke, being considerate to non-smokers). Staff commitment to fostering student autonomy conflicted with their perceived duty of care and institutional rules. For example, one institution banned smoking, causing tension between students and staff, who tried to respect student autonomy while enforcing the rules.

Our findings highlight students' liminal identities and tensions that can manifest as further education staff and institutions attempt to safely accommodate and nurture young people's transition to adulthood. Smoking is denormalised among this population and students can be desensitised to smoking prevention messages in this setting. Interventions in further education must be sensitive to the transitions young people experience.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberS111
Number of pages1
Issue numberSuppl 2
Early online date25 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016

Bibliographical note

Conference abstract: Public Health Science: A National Conference Dedicated to New Research in UK Public Health

Structured keywords

  • DECIPHer


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