One potentially important factor is social influence (Van den Putte, Yzer, & Brunsting, 2005), as this has been shown to be a significant predictor of the uptake of smoking (Kobus, 2003; Mayhem, Flay, & Mott, 2000). An important model which explicitly takes into account social influence and the role of the social environment is the theory of planned behaviour (TPB; Ajzen, 1991).
This theory proposes that people’s intentions to behave in particular ways are informed by three main factors: their personal attitude towards the behaviour; their perceptions of social pressure from significant others to perform the behaviour, or subjective norms; and the amount of control they believe they have over performing the behaviour, or perceived behavioural control.
In the smoking domain, TPB variables have been shown to predict both quitting intentions (Abrams & Biener, 1992; Droomers, Schrijvers, & Mackenbach, 2004; Godin, Valois, Lepage, & Desharnais, 1992; Norman, Conner, & Bell, 1999) and actual quitting (Godin et al. , 1992; Norman et al. , 1999), as well as the uptake of smoking among adolescents (Wilkinson & Abraham, 2004). Of primary interest to the present study is the role of subjective norms. Out of the three main TPB variables, norms have generally been shown to have the weakest effect on intentions (Armitage & Conner, 2001; Godin & Kok, 1996).
However, it has been argued that this is due to the poor measurement and inconsistent conceptualisation of norms (Armitage & Conner, 2001) or the lack of variation of norms within a culture at any point in time. Research by Wiium, Torsheim, and Wold (2006) demonstrated that different kinds of norms differentially influence intentions and behaviour, and argued that the assessment of different kinds of norms in the TPB model can both extend the concept of ‘norm’ and improve its predictive power. In the present study we distinguish between norms from significant others (i. e. erceptions of what significant others believe about smoking) and societal norms (i. e. perceptions of what society in general believes about smoking). In this respect, we depart from previous smoking research that has treated these kinds of norms as two components of a higher order social norm (e. g. Hammond, Fong, Zanna, Thrasher, & Borland, 2006). We argue that it is important to distinguish between these two sources of normative influence, as individuals’ perceptions of the broader social desirability of smoking may differ from their perceptions of what their significant others believe.
This distinction is particularly important when examining cultures that have quite different normative environments regarding smoking. In some countries, such as Australia and the USA, smoking has become a socially undesirable behaviour. This has occurred, at least partially, through decades of communication about the harms of smoking and a range of tobacco control policies, including the reduced capacity of tobacco companies to promote their products, health warnings on cigarette packs, and restrictions on where smoking is permitted.
However, the social undesirability of smoking is not a global phenomenon. Some countries, such as Malaysia, have had a comparatively tobacco-friendly environment, with a relative lack of strongly enforced tobacco control policies and a higher prevalence of smoking than in many Western countries, at least among men. Nevertheless, individual Malaysian smokers’ families and close social networks may still disapprove of smoking. Thus, it is of interest to examine the relative influence of these two potentially opposing smoking norms on quitting intentions in different countries.
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