The Tipping Point | Study Guide

Malcolm Gladwell

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The Tipping Point | Chapter 7 : Case Study: Suicide, Smoking, and the Search for the Unsticky Cigarette | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • This chapter explores an unsolved problem—the epidemic of teenage smoking—to see if the rules of epidemics can provide a solution.
  • Gladwell describes an epidemic of male teenage suicides in Micronesia, a country in the South Pacific. Suicide became "a ritual of adolescence" to young Micronesian men.
  • He compares the suicide epidemic to a dangerous, ongoing epidemic in the West: teenage smoking. Traditional measures to fight teenage smoking haven't worked.
  • Suicides are contagious. High-profile suicides can be Tipping Points. The first death gives "permission" and imitators copy the method of death.
  • Gladwell believes suicide is "a private language between members of a common subculture." Teen smoking is a similar "shared language."
  • Heavy smokers tend to be precocious, rebellious, impulsive, honest, and extroverted. Many teens admire this personality type. Several adults, both smokers and nonsmokers, still associate smoking with sophistication because of memorable smokers they've met.
  • These select influencers illustrate Gladwell's Law of the Few. He emphasizes it's not the act of smoking that's perceived as cool—it's the smokers themselves.
  • Smoking can be both contagious and sticky. It's contagious because of the permission givers who spread the habit. It's sticky because nicotine provides pleasure.
  • Not everyone reacts to nicotine in the same way, however. Some smokers, called "chippers," can smoke regularly without becoming addicted.
  • Genetics determine an individual's nicotine tolerance.
  • To find a Tipping Point in the youth smoking epidemic, Gladwell thinks it's essential to address the habit's contagion and stickiness separately.
  • Cigarette contagion is a challenge to fight since teens' environmental influences come far more from their peer group than from their home environment.
  • Cigarette stickiness, Gladwell argues, can be fought in two ways.
    • Since smoking correlates with clinical depression, treating depression in smokers may help them break the habit.
    • Finding the nicotine addiction threshold, or the amount of nicotine someone can smoke before developing an addiction, and reducing nicotine levels accordingly might keep young smokers from developing a habit in the first place.
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