Mark D. Roberts

Part 5 of series: European Reflections 2006
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In my last post I began to theorize on why Europeans, in general, smoke more than Americans. My first idea was:
Reason #1: Europeans Smoke More Because They’re Less Aware of the Health Risks Associated with Smoking
Today I’ll suggest two further reasons.
Reason #2: Smoking Seems to be Imbedded in European Socializing More Than It is in the U.S.
Admittedly I’m no expert here, but from my casual observations, it seems that smoking in Europe goes hand-in-hand with conversation, especially in the evening. Throughout Europe people by the millions sit in little cafés, tavernas, and pubs, enjoying a drink, a smoke, and animated conversation with friends. Americans, in general, do not tend to enjoy after-work conversation over a cigarette. Rather, we work longer hours, or sit in our cars and trains commuting long distances from work to home, or, when we finally get home, we cozy up to our televisions for some private moments of news and entertainment. (Photo to the right: Two young people in Nice, enjoying a cafe and a cigarette)
If I’m correct, and socializing in the evening is much more common in Europe than in the U.S., and if smoking is an adjunct to that tradition, then it would make sense that more Europeans smoke, and that this practice is embedded within their culture.
Reason #3: A Substantial Segment of American Society Regards Smoking as Immoral on Religious Grounds, Whereas Relatively Few Europeans Share This Conviction
Millions of Americans, almost always of the conservative Christian variety, were raised to believe that smoking is not just unhealthy, but downright sinful. (Many committed Muslims also believe smoking is wrong.) Even though my church and family did not teach the view that smoking was necessarily sinful, I nevertheless intuited that smoking was wrong. Now I have no idea what percentage of the American population continues to hold this belief, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 10% or more. If so, then this helps to explain the difference between European and American smoking practices. A substantial number of Americans believe it is wrong at best, and downright sinful at worst.
Moreover, the relatively recent increase of anti-smoking activism in America has forged an unusual coalition between secular liberals and conservative Christians. Though they might disagree on almost everything else, they passionately concur on the evils of smoking. Thus the legal and cultural pressure against smoking in the U.S. is stronger than that in Europe.
Europe, of course, has much fewer conservative Christians than the U.S. But I was once surprised to discover that many evangelical Christians in Europe do not share the American disdain from smoking (and drinking). This is not to say that most European evangelicals smoke, of course. They don’t. But they do seem to be less “agin it” than their American counterparts. It will be interesting to see if the growing Muslim presence in Europe leads to less smoking.
I’m not a social scientist, or even a particular experienced European traveler. I’ve been there three times, for a total of six weeks. So I have no idea whether my analysis in this blog post will hold water or not. Yet I wouldn’t be at all surprised if my reasons #2 and #3 do help to explain the differences between European and American smoking patterns, in additon to reason #1, which is based on sociological research. Both of my reasons have to do with culture, and culture is a powerful influence on human behavior.

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