Some college students are at especially high risk for tobacco use. Their unique needs and profiles should be considered when planning policy and prevention strategies.



  • Freshmen are the most likely group on campus to begin smoking. In an attempt to fit in and make new friends, students who have never smoked before may adopt the habit as a social icebreaker. This can escalate quickly to addictive use (Hancock, 2003).
  • Results from surveys administered between 1993-1999 show that current smoking prevalence is higher among freshman than sophomores, juniors, or seniors (Halperin and Eytan).
  • Although freshmen are at highest risk, they are also the easiest group to disseminate information to through orientation programs, new student information, and curriculum infusion.

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  • Some women use smoking to control their weight. Not only do college-aged women smoke as a way to control their weight, but they are also more reluctant to quit because of fear of weight gain (Zucker, 2001).
  • Research indicates that females may be more vulnerable to tobacco-related lung damage than males (Langhammer, 2003).
  • Women have been targeted by tobacco industry marketing. Promoting thinness and a slim image is one of the tobacco industry’s main tactics to attract females to smoking (ALA, 2002).
  • With increasing rates of women smokers, lung cancer has now surpassed breast cancer as the leading type of cancer among women in the United States (CDC, 2001).

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Fraternity and Sorority Members:

  • The partying image associated with fraternities and sororities puts members of “Greek” organizations at special risk for tobacco use. Data from the College Alcohol Study revealed that belonging to a Greek organization was positively associated with smoking status (Emmons, 1998).
  • Since many Greek houses are located off campus, campus smoking restrictions often do not apply.
  • In the late 1990s, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Maryland found that about 60% of sorority members smoked (Hancock, 2003).
  • The tobacco industry takes advantage of the fact that Greek houses are not on campus, and often sponsors parties in fraternities and sororities where tobacco products, coupons, and paraphernalia are distributed (Halperin and Eytan). In 1999 alone the tobacco industry spent $335.7 million on promotional items such as t-shirts, sunglasses, and caps as well as another $33.7 million on free cigarette samples (FTC, 1999).

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Male Athletes:

  • A national survey found alarming rate of smokeless (spit or chew) tobacco use among male college athletes. In all, 40.0% of college baseball players and 29.0% of college football players had used spit tobacco in the last year. In comparison, the national smokeless tobacco use rate for all college men is 17.0% (HEC, 2002).
  • Varsity athletes are at particular risk. A study of male baseball players at two major Southwestern universities found that 94.0% of male varsity baseball players, in comparison with 67.0% intramural athletes, either regularly used or had experimented with smokeless tobacco. Seventy-one percent of varsity baseball athletes either experimented with or used smokeless tobacco regularly, compared to 57.0% of intramural athletes (Gingiss,1991).
  • College athletes often model their behaviors after particular professional athletes, many of whom use chewing tobacco (Gingiss, 1991).

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Other Groups to Consider:

There is some evidence that the following groups may also be at high risk for tobacco use:

  • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trasngender (GLBT) students (Ryan, 2001)
  • Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (Tercy, 2002)
  • Art students (Ozcan, 2002)

High-risk populations will vary from campus to campus. It is this critical to assess the demographics and culture of individual campuses when planning intervention and educational strategies.

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