Gender & Tobacco Research

Conceptualizing Gender in Tobacco Research and Knowledge Translation

Gender and sex are both important to tobacco research and knowledge translation. Gender is a multi-dimensional concept that refers to cultural and social expectations about identities, roles and relations that are ascribed to the sexes (Johnson et al., 2007; Benoit et al., 2009). The iTAG team is investigating how various masculine and feminine gendered practices influence smoking routines and smoking cessation aids, and how men-centred and women-centered strategies can be integrated to maximize the chances for smoking cessation and reduction.

Sex is a concept reflecting anatomies, physiologies, genes and hormones (Johnson et al., 2009). A sex-based analysis can be used to explore the physiological pathways and actions of nicotine replacement therapies to see if they point to sex differences that might inform prescription guidelines.

Gender and sex are also institutionalized, and determine the distribution of power in political, educational, religious, media, medical, and social arenas. This can shape norms that define, reproduce, and often justify different expectations and opportunities for women and men, and girls and boys. These include social and family roles, job segregation and limitations, dress codes, health practices, and differential access to money, food, or political power (Johnson et al., 2007).

Key to investigating tobacco and gender is that the concepts of sex and gender are both continuous, not dichotomous. They are also fluid concepts that reflect changes across time and history, and recognize variation within and between individuals and groups. For example, while sex chromosomes are typically XX for females and XY for males, there are many variations including XXY, XYY, XXX, and XO (no second chromosome).

Likewise, gender ideals and peoples’ relationships to those ideals are context dependent. Acknowledging and anticipating the dynamic aspects of both sex and gender as operating outside of male-female binaries is a powerful reminder that smoking patterns and cessation efforts can be diverse within subgroups of men and women. The iTAG team is committed to extending understandings of the intersections of gender and sex in the context of tobacco reduction and cessation (TR).

Men’s and women’s experiences of health occur in the context of interactive gender relations within specific social contexts and settings. The influence of gender relations on smoking patterns and TR is therefore a key consideration in the iTAG research and the development of men- centered and women-centered TR interventions.  Of particular importance is how gendered practices are negotiated, co-produced and performed within relationships between men and women, and among men and women within specific cultural, historic and social contexts. Also considered are the plurality of masculinities and femininities and the influence of power dynamics.


Benoit, C. & Shumka, L. (2009). Gendering the health determinants framework: Why girls’ and women’s health matters. Vancouver, BC: British Columbia Women’s Health Research Network.

Johnson, J.L., Greaves, L., & Repta, R. (2007). Better Science with sex and gender: A primer for health research. Vancouver, BC: British Columbia Women’s Health Research Network.

Johnson, J.L., Greaves, L., & Repta, R (2009). Better science with sex and gender: Facilitating the use of a sex and gender based analysis in health research. International Journal for Equity in Health, 8:14. doi: 10.1186/1475-9276-8-14.


This research has been funded by the Institute for Gender and Health, Canadian Institutes for Health Research, who are committed to supporting research that explores how sex and gender influence health.