This paper considers how young people able to trace their origins from Pakistan or India (henceforth 'Asians'), discuss their use of, or abstention from, alcohol and tobacco in terms of religious and cultural tradition. The role of religion, ethnicity, gender and generation in the uptake or avoidance of alcohol and tobacco was explored in 19 qualitative group and individual interviews with 47 Asians aged 16–26 years and analysed in terms of pioneering and conservative forms of tradition. Religious proscriptions on alcohol and tobacco were reported to be formally gender blind, but concerns about reputation and future marriage chances, sanctioned by gossip, meant that women's behaviour was consistently more constrained than men's. Muslims' abstinence from alcohol was tightly linked with an Islamic identity in that drinking jeopardised one's claim to being a Muslim, whereas cigarette smoking was tolerated among young men. Sikhs' and Hindus' avoidance of tobacco was strongly sanctioned, but smoking did not strongly jeopardise a religious identity. Sikh men's abstention indicated manly strength central to a devout identity. Some experimentation was possible out of view of the older generation, especially the aunties, but the risk of gossip damaging young women's reputations was keenly felt. While damage to women's reputations was hard to undo, men's reputations tarnished by substance use, could be compensated for by their parents' honourable status. Discussion of tradition as innovation was rare and met with resistance. Tradition was largely experienced as a constraint to be circumvented
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