The action of smoking would contribute to self-affirmation, allowing the smoker to reassert freedom and autonomy in the context of a salient and constraining influence relationship.
We have proposed that the social context in which antismoking campaigns operate includes factors that counteract the translation of attitudes and beliefs about tobacco use into behavior such as quitting smoking. On this basis we have argued that the prevailing social norms, values, and practices against tobacco consumption introduce a threat to the identity of smokers that can explain a part of this difficulty. In effect, if this threatening social context is intended to encourage smokers to seek out a more valued identity, then a defensive interpretation of this threat in terms of an identity conflict prevents internalization of the antismoking perspective at the level of action; that is, it prevents the smoker deciding for himself or herself to stop smoking. The ineffectiveness of antismoking campaigns in changing the behavior of smokers can partly be attributed to this kind of dynamics.
On the one hand, we have seen that the social context is characterized by a categorization of people into smokers and nonsmokers, and this is moreover one of those rare categorizations that is not subject to the taboo against discrimination. This leads smokers to preserve a social identity distinct from that of the category of nonsmokers. The emergence of a conflict of identity is less likely here to the extent that the identity of smokers is guaranteed in the relation with nonsmokers, or else if such a comparison is not salient (e.g., if the influence source is an ingroup). On the other hand, the kind of high status sources that are most frequently associated with antismoking campaigns (e.g., experts) encourage an interpretation of the threat as an identity conflict and this motivates smokers to defend their identity within the influence relationship. A conflict of identity is less likely to arise if smokers can preserve their autonomy and independence in the influence relationship or if the influence source does not impose any persuasive constraint (e.g., because it has low status or is a minority source).
In pursuing measures to overcome the marginalization of various ethnic minorities (e.g., Gypsies in Europe, Native Americans in America), or social minorities (e.g., unemployed, smokers, or the obese), society develops influence strategies intended to convert them to dominant norms, values, and practices. Influence on these stigmatized groups is limited by the very status ascribed to them, a status that is intrinsically threatening. Individuals belonging to these groups may accept and meet such a threat by trying to acquire a new majority identity ( Tajfel & Turner, 1986). But such a process presupposes that individuals acknowledge the implications of their current