The ‘state’ of tobacco: Perceptions of tobacco among Appalachian youth in Kentucky

Joy L. Hart*, Kandi L. Walker, Clara G. Sears, Lindsay K. Tompkins, Alexander S. Lee, Delvon T. Mattingly, Allison Groom, Robyn Landry, Aida L. Giachello, Thomas J. Payne, Anshula Kesh, Allison Siu, Courteney Smith, Rose M. Robertson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION In Appalachia, youth tobacco-use rates remain higher than the U.S. national average. Past research has indicated that several factors are related to high rates of tobacco use among Appalachian youth (e.g. low socioeconomic status, rural lifestyles). Of the Appalachian states, Kentucky has one of the highest rates of youth tobacco use. The aim of this study was to explore views of tobacco among Kentucky youth living in Appalachian counties. METHODS In Fall 2014 - Spring 2015, focus group interviews were conducted with middle and high school students (N=109) in Appalachian counties in Kentucky. Each focus group session included open-ended questions and was conducted by trained facilitators. Focus group transcriptions and field notes were analyzed for themes. RESULTS Study participants described an entrenched culture of tobacco. Three themes exemplified this culture. First, adult behavior served to enable youth tobacco use (e.g. teachers ignoring dip use in class, adults smoking with youth). Second, tobacco is easily accessible to youth (e.g. restrictions on youth sales are often ignored, family members provide). Third, symbols of tobacco are prevalent (e.g. festivals celebrating tobacco heritage, tobacco barns, and tobacco marketing logos). CONCLUSIONS Youth participants described a deeply rooted tobacco culture, which they believed was unlikely to change. Additional studies and health education efforts are needed in these rural communities. Further, stricter enforcement of tobacco sales and marketing restrictions may be helpful in protecting this vulnerable population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3
JournalTobacco Prevention and Cessation
Issue numberJanuary
StatePublished - 2018


  • Appalachia
  • Culture
  • Kentucky
  • Smoking
  • Tobacco
  • Youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Health(social science)
  • Health Professions (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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