Disparities in tobacco’s harm persist. Declines in smoking among the general population have not been experienced to the same extent by vulnerable populations. Innovative strategies are required to diminish disparities in tobacco’s harm. As novel tools, anthropological concepts and methods may be applied to improve the design and outcomes of tobacco cessation interventions.


We reviewed over 60 articles published in peer-reviewed journals since 1995 for content on anthropology and smoking cessation. The specific questions framing the review were: (a) “How can lessons learned from anthropological studies of smoking improve the design and effectiveness of smoking cessation interventions?” (b) How can anthropology be applied to diminish disparities in smoking cessation? and (c) How can qualitative methods be used most effectively in smoking cessation intervention research?


Three specific disciplinary tools were identified and examined: (a) culture, (b) reflexivity, and (c) qualitative methods. Examining culture as a dynamic influence and understanding the utilities of smoking in a particular group is a precursor to promoting cessation. Reflexivity enables a deeper understanding of how smokers perceive quitting and smoking beyond addiction and individual health consequences. Qualitative methods may be used to elicit in-depth perspectives on quitting, insights to inform existing community-based strategies for making behavior changes, and detailed preferences for cessation treatment or programs.


Anthropological tools can be used to improve the effectiveness of intervention research studies targeting individuals from vulnerable groups. Synthesized applications of anthropological concepts can be used to facilitate translation of findings into clinical practice for providers addressing tobacco cessation in vulnerable populations.

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