Tobacco use is common among college students nationwide and is not limited to cigarettes. 28.5% of college students polled are current smokers. When asked why, the most common reasons were stress, less supervision at college, having more free time, and the number of their friends who smoke. Unfortunately, many students do not realize how addictive nicotine can be.
College students were less likely to be regular cigarette smokers than their peers not attending college. Of those who currently smoke, fewer full and part-time college students were daily smokers than their non-enrolled counterparts. Among 18 to 24 year olds, males were more likely than females to have tried cigarettes in their lifetime. 68% of male college students had tried cigarettes compared to 61% of female college students. Of those 18 to 24 year olds not enrolled in school, 78% of the males had used cigarettes in their lifetime compared with 68% of females. 28% of males not enrolled in school reported daily smoking compared to 12% of males enrolled full-time in school. Among females not enrolled in any school, 25% were daily smokers in contrast to 13% of female full-time college students. Among all college students, males and females were equally likely to report being former smokers.
Cigar smoking was primarily a behavior practiced by older men before the early 1990s. Few young adults smoked cigars before this time. Major marketing promotions have changed that. Both college students and those not enrolled are equally likely to be cigar smokers. Current use was reported by 11.1% of those enrolled full time in college, 11.4% of those enrolled part time, and 11.9% of those not enrolled in any school. Cigar use is a predominantly male behavior. Current use was reported by 18% percent of males and 5% percent of females aged 18 to 24. Full-time male college students were also significantly more likely than their peers not enrolled in any school to report past year cigar use. Almost half of full-time college students had smoked a cigar at least once in their lifetime (47%). This included almost two thirds of the men (62%) and about one third of the women (34%). Most cigar use is occasional (1 to 2 days a month).
The prevalence of smokeless tobacco use was similar for 18 to 24 year olds enrolled or not enrolled in college. Smokeless tobacco use, mainly a male behavior, was engaged in by 11% of males and less than 1% of females. Almost 90% of women had never used smokeless tobacco products in their life. About 60% of men aged 18 to 24 had not tried smokeless tobacco during their lifetime. Most smokeless tobacco users discontinued use after trying it. 25% had tried smokeless tobacco at least once and 5% were current users.
Rates of pipe smoking were relatively low among young people aged 18 to 24. Rates for males were 2% and females were less than 1%. An estimated 11% of full-time college students, 8% of part-time college students, and 10% of those not enrolled in school had ever tried pipe smoking. Males were more than 3 times more likely than females to be current smokers and almost 4 times as likely to have smoked pipes in their lifetime.
Overall, smoking was higher for whites than African Americans, Hispanics, or Asians and higher in freshmen, sophomores, and juniors than seniors and fifth-year students. There were more smokers at public institutions than private. The smoking rate was lower at commuter schools than at residential schools. Schools in the Northeast, North Central, and Southern regions had higher smoking rates than schools in the West. Smoking prevalence did not differ between rural and urban schools, between women’s and coed institutions, or between schools with and without a religious affiliation.
Students who use tobacco are also more likely to partake in risky behaviors – smoking marijuana, binge drinking, multiple sexual partners. They are also more apt to rate parties as important and spend more time socializing with friends. Tobacco users are less likely than nonusers to rate athletics or religion as important and to be satisfied with their education. They are also more likely to have lower grades than non-smokers.
College appears to be a time when students are trying a range of tobacco products. This puts them in danger of developing lifelong nicotine dependence. It has been suggested that making all campus buildings, including dorms, smoke-free might discourage students from starting to smoke and help those who do smoke to stop. 60% of young people thought they could safely smoke for a few years and then quit. Young people do not get the concept that every cigarette they smoke is doing their body harm. Rather, young smokers, tend to perceive health risks in a cumulative manner. This permits them to rationalize their current smoking behavior as falling below some threshold level of risk. Thus college students may not perceive much harm in smoking, because many express the view that they will be able to stop smoking at some future time. Risk perceptions may be influenced by beliefs about what constitutes a pattern of regular smoking. Among young adults it is especially common to observe infrequent bouts of smoking as someone acquires a regular smoking pattern. Most students are not heavy smokers. Fewer than 12% smoked a pack a day or more, 45% smoked daily but less than a pack, and 43% did not smoke daily.
Students’ perception of peer smoking is higher than the actual rate. A survey conducted at the University of Washington showed that students thought that 94.4% of the student body were smokers. In reality, only 34.4% of the student body smoked.
Careless smoking can cause damages and injuries. From 1993 to 1997 (the last available data), there were 187 Fires caused by smoking in American dormitories, fraternities, and sororities. These fires resulted in nine injuries and more than a half million dollars in damage. Mattresses and bedding, upholstered furniture, and trash were the items most often ignited by smoking materials in structure fires.
A widespread tobacco industry marketing strategy is to sponsor social events and give out free samples at bars, clubs, and college parties. This may be encouraging students to take up smoking. Overall, 8.5 percent of students had attended a tobacco-industry-sponsored social event where free cigarettes were distributed. Bars and nightclubs were the most common settings, but students also reported attending events on campus. The students who attended these promotions were more likely to be current smokers, compared to students who had not attended an event. The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, in which the tobacco industry agreed not to market to teenagers, makes young adults (aged 18 to 24) its newest and youngest legal targets.
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