Generation X - Why They Smoke

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Generation X - Why They Smoke

Five reasons that Gen Xers smoke include the influence of their parents' smoking habits; their social patterns and environment; cigarette advertising during their adolescent years; their current ages; and an aversion to the side-effects of quitting.


  • A major reason why Gen Xers smoke is due to the influence of the smoking habits of their parents. In the 1960s, about 42% of the population smoked regularly, and in 1985, about 30% were regular smokers.
  • This study establishes that smoking behavior is passed down not only from parents, but also from grandparents, which encourages the likelihood that Generation Xers smoke.
  • Furthermore, a person inhaling cigarette smoke is also inhaling nicotine, so when Gen Xers were children growing up around parents who smoked, they were already developing a dependency on nicotine.


  • Cigarette sales reached their peak in the 1960s, and smoking was so widely accepted throughout the 60s and 70s that many social patterns revolved around smoking. This also encouraged Gen Xers to begin smoking.
  • The prevalence of smoking during Gen Xers' formative years is important because most people begin smoking in their teens, and by age 20, 80% of smokers say they regret they smoke but are unable to stop.
  • Members of this focus group, which included primarily Gen Xers, said they had started smoking in their teens and could not stop.
  • In the same focus group, members reported they noticed a social cost to not smoking because smoking was a social habit and something to share with other people.
  • Another focus group comprised of mainly Gen Xers reported that they struggled to quit because their home and work environments encouraged smoking.


  • As late as 1971, cigarette advertisements were allowed on TV during hours when children were watching, thereby encouraging Gen Xers to smoke.
  • Tobacco usage was highly prevalent in movies and TV shows in the 60s and 70s too, which has been demonstrated to encourage smoking among adolescents.


  • A Gallup report notes an increase in the number of smokers once people reach the ages of 44 through 54 and suggests that the stresses of this age range may encourage people to smoke.
  • In this focus group, although based in the UK, people in the Gen X range said that anti-smoking advertisements were unlikely to change their smoking habits because of their age and number of years smoking.


  • Even though most smokers in the Gen X age range want to quit, many of them fear the side-effects of quitting and are skeptical that the health benefits would be worth it.
  • Even though quitting smoking is beneficial for one's health at any age, many smokers rationalize the health risk and expect to not be affected by the health risks.
  • Furthermore, younger adults are more likely than older adults to be successful in quitting smoking than older adults.


Our first step to identify five reasons Gen Xers smoke was to research academic articles and publications from health organizations. In these two categories of sources, we looked specifically for information on why people started smoking during the years relevant to Gen Xers; why this generation smokes now despite a trend against smoking; for focus groups on smoking motivations; and statistical analyses on smoking motivations.

After coming up with a preliminary list, we narrowed the list down to five reasons based on the frequency with which the factor was mentioned in our first analysis, the credibility of the sources discussing the factor, and the pertinence of the factor to the Gen X age range above other age ranges. The first three factors were mentioned in numerous credible studies and publications that we reviewed, and each had a body of academic literature dedicated to discussing it. The first and third factors are especially important because of their specific relevance to Gen X. The influence of parents’ smoking habits changed dramatically after Gen X because of increased public health information about second-hand smoking. Regulation about cigarette advertising changed after their generation, and television was only popularized in the 15 years before Gen X emerged. While the second factor certainly influenced generations before Gen X, Gen X was the last generation to be encouraged to smoke because of its widespread social acceptance. The fourth factor, while less frequently mentioned, is important because of the credibility of the sources that do mention it, and the implications that Gen Xers’ current time of life encourages them to continue smoking. Lastly, we chose the fifth factor because it is widely discussed by credible sources, and sheds insight into why Gen Xers still smoke despite health information and negative social consequences.

We failed to find extensive statistical evidence, which could be because of the qualitative nature of a question of motivation. In an attempt to find statistical information we searched academic publications, health publications, government health agency data, and anti-smoking advertiser data. This research resulted in some statistics which are included in the brief above, but mostly in qualitative information.