Mobiles phones: Cigarettes for the 21st Century

James Stewart

University of Edinburgh

This phrase has been my e-mail sig since 1999,and I put this collectionof thoughts together then. It refers to the many similarities between mobile phones and cigarettes that I have noticed over this time. Many similarities become obvious as one thnks about the comparison. A phone is compared to the collection of individual cigarettes, the pack and also the matches or lighter. This page first came on line Jan 2003. Updated May 2006

Topics covered include sociology of cigarette use, social shaping of health scares, industrial structure and political influence, advertising, cultural images, gender and age issues etc.

I have recently (July 2005) written a research proposal to study the banning of mobile phones and other pICTs (personal Infomration and Communiation Technologies) in many public and private places. The text is here. I have collected many newspaper articles on the subject which I will create an online archive of soon.

If you have any comments, examples etc, please post them on the page I have created on my Blog, and I will incorporate good exmaples into this document

Phones have replaced cigarettes as the thing people fiddle with -

They are used to fill time waiting

We often have to go outside a building or room to use them.

They are displayed in public places

They are associated with certain stereotypes-

They are used in charateristic ways by different people

They are lent and borrowed

They are given as presents

They are seen as antisocial in many public or social contexts

They are highly social

Teenagers want them - [newsarticle]

Mobile Phones may to be reducing teenage smoking

Conspicuous, peer pressure and affected use associated with younger people who want to 'belong'

Their use is banned in many of the same places because of social interference or technical interference, or danger of fire.

They can cause fires - (phones by explosion)

Actually there is no evidence for this with phones, but that does not put off certain 'licencing authorities' from banning them on these grounds, such as in European filling stations.

They have highly disputed health issues,

They are dangerous to use when driving

They are addictive in several ways, and people try to control this -

2006 Diana James and Judy Drennan's paper on mobile phone addictiveness. James and Drennan, Queensland University of Technology "Exploring Addictive Consumption of Mobile Phone Technology". Scotsman newspaper reference to this research

You can count how many you use/make a day

There are important 'class' issues over use,

Smaller version are

Gender differentiating in branding and design [smoke], [phone 1, 2]

They both are associated with small pictures of popular culture

- logos, cigarette cards

You go to the newsagent/tobacconist) to buy them (top up cards),

They have similar industrial characteristics

Smuggling and crime are both issues

Phone advertising has largely taken the place of cigarette advertising which has been widely banned

Some sources


Drawing up these parallels, it is clear that there are some areas that are well researched and others not. For example, there is more on tobacco lobbying than mobile phone operator lobbying; there is more on sociology of phone use than of cigarette use, at least from an objective rather than normative point of view. There is more on cigarette advertising than phone advertising.

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