Tobacco use is a well-known public health concern related to many health problems such as cancer and heart disease. Smoking is referred to in the literature as a paediatric disease because most smokers begin using tobacco before the age of 18.
The general aim of this paper is to contribute for the development of tobacco strategies focused on children by assessing their social representations of smokers using the photovoice technique with students from Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In total, 27 children, 15 girls and 12 boys aging from six to 16 years old, took part in the project that involved taking pictures, writing essays and discussing in groups. Children participated in three meetings in the period of 15 days. Thematic network analysis was performed to examine the data.
Findings suggest that children’s representations of smokers are very complex. The decision to become a smoker is seen by participants as a personal choice. The identity associated with smoking is represented by participants as a characteristic that someone should not be proud of having. Primarily young children classified smokers as fools and stated that they should go to jail. On the other hand, participants demonstrated some affection toward tobacco users and said smokers need care. This mainly comes from the concern they have for the health of their family members. They expressed a strong intention to encourage their family members to stop smoking.
In practice the research suggests that any program aiming to prevent children from smoking should interact with other initiatives, such as those which provide smoking treatment. Their intention to support their family members on quitting process can be explored by campaign designers. Once this is the first study of children’s social representations of smokers in Brazil, further research needs to be carried out.