Developing Smokers Revisited

September 28, 2008

In a post about the prevalence of smokers in China I challenged the assumption that smoking is caused by misinformation promoted by Big Tobacco:

My skepticism has its roots in anecdotal evidence from a couple of scuba trips to Indonesia. A high number of the dive masters in Indonesia smoke. Misinformation does not seem to apply. These young men (all have been men) have a good grasp of health issues dealing with the risk of decompression sickness and poisonous stings (rarely lethal but painful) for themselves and the divers in their charge. They speak English and are exposed to westerners who preach the evils of smoking to them daily. Yet they smoke in droves.

A paper named So You Want To Quit Smoking: Have You Tried a Mobile Phone? provides another hint.

Using panel data from 2,100 households in 135 communities of the Philippines collected in 2003 and 2006, the analysis finds that mobile phone ownership leads to a 20 percent decline in monthly tobacco consumption. Among households in which at least one member smoked in 2003, purchasing a mobile phone leads to a 32.6 percent decrease in tobacco consumption per adult over the age of 15.

What I find most interesting about this paper is not the idea that cell phones can reduce smoking but that smoking and cell phones are somehow similar.

What I think is similar is that both cell phone use and smoking represent a type of public conspicuous consumption that takes place in a social setting. They are both social signals.