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Learning to Smoke

Tobacco Use in the West

Why do people smoke? Taking a unique approach to this question, Jason Hughes moves beyond the usual focus on biological addiction that dominates news coverage and public health studies and invites us to reconsider how social and personal understandings of smoking crucially affect the way people experience it. Learning to Smoke examines the diverse sociological and cultural processes that have compelled people to smoke since the practice was first introduced to the West during the sixteenth century.

Hughes traces the transformations of tobacco and its use over time, from its role as a hallucinogen in Native American shamanistic ritual to its use as a prophylactic against the plague and a cure for cancer by early Europeans, and finally to the current view of smoking as a global pandemic. He then analyzes tobacco from the perspective of the individual user, exploring how its consumption relates to issues of identity and life changes. Comparing sociocultural and personal experiences, Hughes ultimately asks what the patterns of tobacco use mean for the clinical treatment of smokers and for public policy on smoking. Pointing the way, then, to a more learned and sophisticated understanding of tobacco use, this study will prove to be essential reading for anyone interested in the history of smoking and the sociology of addiction.


“Hughes makes an excellent effort simultaneously to fill an embarrassing gap in the sociological literature regarding tobacco use and to demonstrate that tobacco use cannot be adequately addressed solely from a clinical perspective.”

Brian M. Lowe | Contemporary Sociology

Learning to Smoke makes very original arguments about the use of tobacco in Western societies. Mindful of major sociological theories and nicely supported by a wealth of historical documentation, this study will find an enthusiastic audience among both specialists and anyone interested in the smoking problem.”

Howard Becker, author of Outsiders

Learning to Smoke explores the smoking problem in a way that sets it apart from other sociological works about addiction. Looking at the experience of smoking in a variety of different historical and cultural contexts, Hughes lays out the long term development of tobacco use in the West to show how its once common reputation as a panacea gave way to its current standing as pandemic.”

Joseph Gusfield, author of The Culture of Public Problems

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why People Smoke: A Question for Sociologists?
1. Tobacco Use among Native American Peoples
2. Tobacco Use and Humoral Bodies: The Introduction of Tobacco into Britain and Other Parts of Europe
3. Tobacco Use and Clinical Bodies: Tobacco Usw in the Twentieth-Century West
4. Becoming a Smoker

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