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Successful cancer prevention policies and programming for youth must be based on a solid understanding of youth’s conceptualization of cancer and cancer prevention. Accordingly, a qualitative study examining youth’s perspectives of cancer and its prevention was undertaken. Not surprisingly, smoking (i.e., tobacco cigarette smoking) was one of the dominant lines of discourse in the youth’s narratives. This paper reports findings of how youth conceptualize smoking with attention to their perspectives on parental and family-related smoking issues and experiences.
Seventy-five Canadian youth ranging in age from 11–19 years participated in the study. Six of the 75 youth had a history of smoking and 29 had parents with a history of smoking. Youth were involved in traditional ethnographic methods of interviewing and photovoice. Data analysis involved multiple levels of analysis congruent with ethnography.
Youth’s perspectives of parents and other family members’ cigarette smoking around them was salient as represented by the theme: It’s not fair. Youth struggled to make sense of why parents would smoke around their children and perceived their smoking as an unjust act. The theme was supported by four subthemes: 1) parenting the parent about the dangers of smoking; 2) the good/bad parent; 3) distancing family relationships; and 4) the prisoner. Instead of being talked to about smoking it was more common for youth to share stories of talking to their parents about the dangers of smoking. Parents who did not smoke were seen by youth as the good parent, as opposed to the bad parent who smoked. Smoking was an agent that altered relationships with parents and other family members. Youth who lived in homes where they were exposed to cigarette smoke felt like a trapped prisoner.
Further research is needed to investigate youth’s perceptions about parental cigarette smoking as well as possible linkages between youth exposed to second hand smoke in their home environment and emotional and lifestyle-related health difficulties. Results emphasize the relational impact of smoking when developing anti-tobacco and cancer prevention campaigns. Recognizing the potential toll that second-hand smoke can have on youth’s emotional well-being, health care professionals are encouraged to give youth positive messages in coping with their parents’ smoking behaviour.