One of the tricks of teaching introduction to sociology is to get students to give up the idea that “everybody’s different” (they’re not) and everybody behaves based on psychological and individual motivations, or rather that these psychological and individual motivations are socially-based… hence the usefulness of Durkheim’s social facts in our conceptual toolkit.
If my classroom Internet connection had worked in class today, I would have used this example:
Then comes the detective work. How can we explain the patterns, areas of concentration (the big dark green areas)? The article notes a number of factors:
Education: the more educated the population of a state, the lower the smoking rate;
Taxation: the higher the taxes on cigarettes, the lower the smoking rate. But beware of correlation is not causation: it may not be that high cigarette taxes make people smoke less, but rather that people in states with low smoking rates are more tolerant of high cigarette tax rates because it does not affect them.
Also, states that rank well in the American Lung Association “Smokefree Air Challenge” have lower smoking rates, again, the causation can go either way.
Specific social factors: is anyone surprised that Utah ranks number one?
One would have to consider also the power of the tobacco industry in the US and the economics of tobacco growing and cigarette selling. Also, while smoking has declined considerably since the 1970s (a combination of health factors and culture and social redefinition of smoking as symbol and status marker), the overall rate seems to have plateaued.