The “Social Fact” of Smoking


The French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, introduced the concept of “social facts”  –  social norms so strong that they control human behavior and structure human choice – a concept that flies in the face of economic (and utilitarian) assumptions about rational actors with perfect information “maximizing” their utilities via exercising strategic “choice”.

Robert Frank’s Times opinion piece today describes one “social fact” – the prevalence of smoking behavior among peers is the best predictor of any individual’s propensity to smoke.

“By far the most powerful predictor of whether a person will smoke is the percentage of her closest friends who smoke. If the share of smokers in someone’s peer group rises to 30 percent from 20 percent, for example, the probability that she will smoke rises by about 25 percent. Whereas most of my teenage friends were smokers, relatively few of my sons’ friends were. In 2016, only about 19 percent of American men were smokers, and only about 14 percent of women.”

With smoking we have a social fact that benefits large global corporations (Altria, Brown & Williamson, R. J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Philip Morris, etc.) but hurts the average population of smokers and non-smokers (both current non-smokers via second hand-smoke and any future child via the social pressure of social facts in smoking cultures.

Author: Publicis

A citizen of the United States more concerned with how our society works than with the fate of the parties or particular candidates.

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