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Butting out for baby needs a gender-sensitive approach, say UBC smoking-cessation researchers - photo by Martin Dee
Butting out for baby needs a gender-sensitive approach, say UBC smoking-cessation researchers - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 2 | Feb. 1, 2007

New Dads Retreat to Their Cars to Keep Smoking

By Hilary Thomson
With files from Mary Kelly

Smoking can be harmful to your baby. It’s a familiar phrase but does it only apply to women?

Not so, says a group of UBC researchers exploring the thoughts and behaviours of new fathers who smoke, in the hopes of encouraging more men to butt out.

In the only such study in Canada, preliminary findings show that new dads have largely dodged the pressure to quit, but are running out of places to smoke. Many can be found in the last smoker-friendly frontier -- their cars.

“Despite social pressure on women to quit, new fathers have been left relatively free to continue smoking,” says John Oliffe, co-principal investigator and an assistant professor in UBC’s School of Nursing. “We’re interested in learning how men’s reluctance to quit is tied in to a traditional masculine image of risk-taker and role of protector and provider. We’ve found that vehicles that take men to work, or are used directly in men’s work, are key to those roles.”

Along with co-principal investigator Joan Bottorff, the team has interviewed 25 new fathers ranging in age from 22-50, who have smoked various amounts daily. Most had tried to quit. All participants are from the Lower Mainland and represent many cultural backgrounds, including South Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European. The men are interviewed at the time of their baby’s birth and within the next six months.

A unique aspect of the research, launched in September 2005, is that participants are encouraged to take pictures of where they smoke, as a springboard to discussion. When researchers reviewed the photos, which include apartment balconies and back yards, many revealed vehicles as the smoking venue of choice.

“Men are acutely aware of the social pressure to reduce second-hand smoke and for those not ready to quit, they are finding fewer and fewer place to smoke without stigma. We’re finding that men are smoking in their cars -- one of the last refuges where they can light up,” says Bottorff, who is dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Development at UBC Okanagan.

Oliffe says the men see their vehicles, which may or may not be used to carry the infant, as private space that is neither inside nor outside. Some fathers said they don’t want their kids to see them smoking and many stepped up their hygiene to make sure their face, hands and clothing didn’t smell of smoke when they were in contact with their baby. Researchers have found the third trimester seems to be the time when fathers are most interested in quitting.

“I think we need a gender-sensitive approach to smoking-cessation interventions,” he says. “I think the language needs to be different -- maybe stronger language rather than the relationship-based approach used in anti-smoking campaigns aimed at mothers.”

A double standard may also apply. One study participant said, “Well…you know, it’s not good for the baby, right, I’d be pretty mad if she did [smoke] and I know it’s pretty selfish of me to keep smoking while she was pregnant, but, ...when you’re smoking a pack a day it’s a pretty big adjustment just to, to drop it.”

“Many of the men we interviewed had their own reasons to quit smoking -- reasons not typical of smoking cessation programs,” says Bottorff. “As men began to get more engaged in fathering, they became more uncomfortable with their smoking and adamant that they didn’t want their children to smoke. I think we could build on this motivation to be a good father to help them quit smoking.”

Vehicles have already been targeted for smoking restriction in South Australia, where proposed legislation seeks a ban on smoking in vehicles carrying passengers under the age of 16.
Approximately 20-30 per cent of pregnant women in Canada smoke, according to published research in the U.S. and Canada. Although about half these women reduce or stop smoking during pregnancy, the majority relapse. The main risk factor for women’s smoking relapse is having a partner who smokes, adds Bottorff.

A 2003 Ipsos-Reid survey of 2,900 British Columbians 15 years and older found no statistical difference between overall current smoking rates for males and females. The finding extended to all age groups with the exception of 40- to 54-year-olds where males are more likely than females to be current smokers.

The survey data also showed that overall, 15 per cent of residents live in a household that allows cigarettes to be smoked on an unrestricted basis inside the home. Another seven per cent of residents live in a household where smoking cigarettes are allowed on a restricted basis. The vast majority (78 per cent) of British Columbians, however, do not allow any smoking inside their home.

Approximately 45,000 Canadians die annually from tobacco use according to the B.C. Lung Association. Information from Health Canada’s website indicates the costs to manage smoking-related illness tops $15 billion annually.

The study is the second part of a project called FACET, FAmilies Controlling and Eliminating Tobacco, that is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research via the Institute for Gender and Health. Other members of the research team include: Lorraine Greaves; Joy Johnson; and Blake Poland.

Men (fathers and others) who have quit smoking and wish to participate in a future study that explores how some men continue to remain smoke-free may call 604.822.5061.

Mary Kelly is research co-ordinator for the Nursing and Health Behaviour Research (NAHBR) and NEXUS research units at the School of Nursing.

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Last reviewed 30-Jan-2007

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