COLLEGE TOBACCO USE: A CAUSE FOR ALARM
High rates of tobacco use among college students run counter
to downward trends in the general population. Here are some
of the alarming truths about college tobacco use.
- Estimates vary, but approximately 30.0% of college students
are current tobacco users, defined as those who have used
a tobacco product in the past 30 days.
- The 1999 Harvard College Alcohol Study found that
32.9% of college students had used tobacco during the
past 30 days (Rigotti, 2000).
- According to the 1999 Harvard College Alcohol Study
nearly half of college students (45.7%) used a tobacco
product in the last year (Rigotti, 2000).
- College smoking rates rose dramatically through the 1990s.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s “Monitoring
the Future” survey found that the number of college
students who reported smoking in the past 30 days rose
by one-third, from 23.0% in 1991 up to 31.0% in 1999.
College students who reported daily smoking rose by
40.0%, from 14.0% in 1991 to 19.0% in 1999 (Johnston,
- The Harvard College Alcohol study reported an increase
of 27.8% in the number of college students who smoked
during the past 30 days between 1993 (22.0%) and 1997
(28.0%) (Wechsler, 1998).
- Many people start to smoke in college. Almost 40% of college
students either began smoking (11.0%) or became regular
smokers (28.0%) after starting college (Rigotti, 2000).
- Of the over 70.0% of college students who have ever tried
smoking (Rigotti, 2000, and CDC, 1997) 41.5% continue on
to become regular smokers (Everett, 1999).
- Historically, college students have had lower smoking
rates than people the same age who are not in college, but
the gap is narrowing. It shrunk from 20.0% in 1980 to 10.0%
by 1999 (Halperin, 2002).
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Cigar and Smokeless Tobacco Use:
- Although cigarette smoking constitutes the majority of
college tobacco use on campuses, other forms of tobacco
are also a cause for concern.
- Cigar use has risen dramatically among college-aged youth.
Young adults aged 18-25 are more than twice as likely to
report cigar smoking in the past month than teenagers and
adults over 26 (NHSDA, 2001).
- Almost one-half (44.0%) of college students have reported
ever smoking a cigar, and one study found that 20.0% of
college students reported cigar use in the past 30 days
- A single cigar often contains more nicotine than an entire
pack of cigarettes (Jamner, 1999, and NCI, 2000).
- Smoking just one to two cigars a day doubles the risk
for oral and esophageal cancer (NCI, 2000).
- Cigar smoking is more common among underclassmen, and
the number of women in college who are smoking cigars is
rapidly rising (Rigotti, 2000).
- Smokeless tobacco use rates are about 3.7% among college
students (Rigotti, 2000). There is some indication that
they are increasing among young people in general (NCI,
- Smokeless tobacco is potent. One “dip” delivers
the same amount of nicotine as three to four cigarettes
and stays in the bloodstream longer. Only eight to ten chews
or dips of smokeless tobacco in a day contains the same
amount of nicotine as 30-40 cigarettes (OCF).
- Smokeless tobacco is a “gateway” substance
for cigarette smoking, alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs
- Smokeless tobacco contains 28 known cancer-causing substances
- Smokeless tobacco is associated with cancers of the oral
cavity (lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, floor/roof of mouth),
oral leukoplakia (white mouth sores that can become cancerous),
gum disease and possible heart disease, diabetes and reproductive
problems (NCI, 2003).
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- One of the greatest challenges on the college tobacco
landscape is the growing number of “social smokers.”
Social smokers usually smoke only while hanging out with
friends, drinking, or partying.
- The CDC reports a nationwide increase “some day
smokers,” who report that they smoke only on some
days. Nationally, 24.0% of the adult population identifies
as a “some day smoker.” Among 18-24 year olds,
28.7% report being “some day smokers,” a higher
prevalence than any other age group. When broken down by
education level, those with a college education reported
the highest prevalence of someday smoking (31.7%) (CDC,
- The tobacco industry works hard to turn social or “some
day” college smokers into regular smokers. As one
Phillip Morris document notes, “significant choice
moments in cigarette smoking tend to coincide with critical
transition stages in life.” Tobacco marketers have
implemented strategies designed to increase smoking frequency
among college students who are social smokers (Ling, 2002).
- Social smokers often do not consider themselves smokers,
so there is little research on this group. One small survey
conducted by the American Legacy Foundation found that 32.0%
of smokers interviewed only smoked when with friends or
in a social setting such as a bar or club. They reported
reasons for social smoking such as “It goes well with
drinking. I like the look and feel of it” and “I
was already sucking in smoke — my friends and roommates
smoke” (ALF, 2002).
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