The negative effects of tobacco use go well beyond health problems. College student tobacco use is also associated with mental health issues, lower academic performance, high-risk drinking, illicit drug use, and high-risk sexual behavior.


Health Effects of Tobacco Use:

  • Smoking causes more than 440,000 US deaths per year, accounting for 1 out of every 5 deaths (CDC, 2003).
  • Smoking is associated with coronary heart disease, stroke, ulcers, respiratory infections, lung cancer (as well as cancer of the larynx, esophagus, bladder, pancreas, stomach, & uterine cervix), bronchitis, emphysema, early menopause, and stillborn & premature children (NIDA, 1999).
  • Smokeless tobacco users, and pipe and cigar smokers are more susceptible to mouth cancer, cancer of the larynx, and cancer of the esophagus (NIDA, 1999).
  • College students who smoke have higher rates of respiratory infections and asthma as well as a higher incidence of bacterial meningitis, especially among freshman living in dorms (Halperin, 2002).
  • Women smokers with human papilloma virus (HPV) are at increased risk of progressing to cervical dysplasia or cancer. Women who smoke and use oral contraceptive pills are at higher risk for thromboembolic diseases such as stroke (Halperin, 2002).
  • Of the 15 million college students in the United States today, it is estimated that 1.7 million will die of smoking-related illnesses, most prematurely (Halperin, 2002). That amounts to over 10.0% of current college students.

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Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS):

  • Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS), or “second-hand” smoke, is harmful to both smokers and nonsmokers alike. ETS is an important student and employee issue on college campuses.
  • ETS has been classified as a Group A carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, 1993).
  • ETS causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths per year in US nonsmokers (EPA, 1993).
  • The CDC estimates that ETS causes 35,000 ischemic heart disease deaths per year in the U.S. (CDC, 2002).
  • Nonsmokers exposed to ETS have a 20.0% increased risk of heart disease (Brownson, 1997).
  • ETS contains higher concentrations of ammonia, benzene, nicotine, and carbon monoxide than the mainstream smoke that smokers inhale (Brownson, 1997).
  • The workplace and the home are the top sources of ETS exposure for nonsmokers (Brownson, 1997). Implementing worksite smoking policies has been found to have to significantly lowered people’s exposure to nicotine and the other dangerous substances in ETS (Hammond, 1995).
  • Beyond health risks, people find ETS irritating and uncomfortable. As far back as 1986, well before the anti-tobacco campaign was moving at full steam, 71.0% of people reported being annoyed by ETS (Brownson, 1997).

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Tobacco and Mental Health Problems:

  • Mental health disorders have been strongly associated with smoking, especially among adolescents and young adults.
  • Smoking has been associated with suicidal tendencies. College students who are daily smokers are more than five times more likely to have either seriously thought about or attempted suicide than non-smokers (Halperin and Eytan).
  • Adolescent smokers are two times more likely to develop a major depressive disorder than adolescent nonsmokers. (Brown, 1996)
  • The relationship between depression and smoking among adolescents is bidirectional. Depressed teens are more likely to smoke, and those who smoke are more likely to become depressed (Brown, 1996).
  • A National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 25-year study concluded that smoking is connected with several mental health disorders in adolescents and young adults. Heavy smokers (>20 cigarettes/day) were 6.8 times more likely to develop agoraphobia, had 5.5 times the risk of generalized anxiety disorder, and had 15.6 times the risk of developing panic disorder than non-smokers and light smokers. These drastic risk increases are thought to be tied to the damage that nicotine can do to the blood vessels that lead to the brain (NIDA, 2001).

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Tobacco, High-Risk Drinking, Illicit Drug Use, and High-Risk Sex:

  • College students who smoke are more likely to participate in the risky behaviors that pose some of the greatest health threats to18-24 year olds.
  • Concurrent dependence on tobacco and alcohol occurs in about 10.0% of young adults ages 21-25 (Anthony, 2000).
  • Adolescents who smoke are seven times more likely to abuse or become addicted to illicit drugs than are nonsmoking teens (Brown, 1996).
  • The Harvard College Alcohol Study determined that student tobacco users are 4.62 times more likely to smoke marijuana and 3.6 times more likely to engage in high-risk drinking than are nonsmokers (Rigotti, 2000). Smokers are more likely to use illicit drugs than high-risk drinkers (Halperin and Eytan).
  • College students who are smokers are 50.0% more likely than nonsmokers to have had two or more sexual partners in the last month (Rigotti, 2000). Even light smokers are over three times more likely to participate in high-risk sexual behavior when concurrently using alcohol or other drugs than nonsmokers (Halperin & Eytan).

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Tobacco Use and Lower Academic Performance:

  • Smokers have lower grade point averages (GPA) than nonsmokers. The Harvard College Alcohol Study found that smokers are 27.0% less likely than nonsmokers to have an above B grade average (Rigotti, 2000). Daily smokers were found to have even lower GPAs than high-risk drinkers (Halperin and Eytan).
  • Smoking prevalence in colleges has been found to be lower at highly selective schools (Wechsler, 1998).
  • Lower individual performance among students results in lower academic overall standings for colleges.

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