Law Students and Smoking Cessation

Law students face a lot of pressure, and for many of them, the result is that they start to smoke. Although law students and lawyers don’t smoke as much as people in other fields, the stress of studying for the LSAT and working in the profession leads some to light up, and we need to tackle it as soon as possible. 

Smoking kills almost half a million Americans every year, and each smoker will lose an average of 10 years from his or her life. This is why helping people quit smoking is so important: there are a lot of lives at stake. Like all students, law students face a lot of pressure, and are in a transitional period in their lives during which many students start smoking. At first it may be “social” smoking, but as time progresses the habit goes from something students do when they’re out with friends to a daily activity. Breaking the link between law students and smoking now is the best way to protect the health of our future attorneys.

Smoking Among College Students: The Statistics

Smoking rates among college students are hard to pin down, because different studies propose different figures and most studies focus on simple age groups rather than whether individuals are students. However, there are some estimates of smoking rates in college students.

One study looked at students from Indiana and Purdue University, and found that in fall of 2009, 11.4 % of Indiana students were smokers, compared to just 4.8 % of Purdue students. The Monitoring the Future survey put the rate of daily smoking for college-age adults in 2010 at between 11 and 15 %.

However, it’s well known that most college smokers don’t actually smoke every day. This can cause some confusion with statistics, but the biggest problem is that most don’t describe themselves as “smokers.” As a result, they’re much less likely to tell their doctors and receive advice or encouragement to quit.

Lawyers, Law Students and Smoking: How Much Do They Smoke?

The sparse statistics on college students and smoking overall means that it’s hard to find reliable figures for smoking among law students. However, the CDC looked at the smoking rates in different occupations between 2004 and 2010, finding that just 9.4 % of people in the legal profession smoke. This is still high, but compared to the 2010 average of 19.6 % it’s really a positive sign for the profession.

It can be expected that law students will show a similar pattern: although some will smoke, most law students will sensibly avoid it. One survey has specifically addressed this question. It found that students in communications, languages or cultural studies were the most likely to smoke, and mathematics, engineering and sciences students were the least likely to smoke. So it’s true that law students aren’t the most at-risk from smoking-related diseases, but many law students do still take up the habit.

The Link Between Stress and Smoking

The link between stress and smoking is particularly relevant for the issue of smoking among law students. Tackling a demanding subject like law puts students under a lot of pressure, and many people turn to cigarettes, alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress.

The reason people smoke to combat stress is that it superficially seems to work. When smokers light up, the nicotine in cigarettes affects the reward center of the brain and creates a feeling of relief and relaxation. In other words, the short-term effects of smoking can reduce stress for a smoker.

The problem is that if you’re addicted to nicotine, you’re actually more stressed than somebody who’s not addicted when you haven’t smoked for a while. Being in “withdrawal” creates a sense of unease, and most of the relief smokers feel is this unease being alleviated when they get more nicotine.

The bigger issue is that you need to make bigger changes in your life to effectively deal with stress. Even if cigarettes did reduce stress (which they don’t), smoking still would be a harmful way to cope with stress. Learning healthier coping mechanisms for stress – which could be anything from exercising to mindfulness meditation – is the key to overcoming stress-related smoking.

Quitting Smoking for Law Students

Law students who smoke can use any of the available methods to quit, and any of them increase your chances of being successful. The best strategy is to use stop-smoking medication like Chantix in combination with behavioral counseling, but this isn’t for everybody. Nicotine replacement therapies like patches and gums, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes are alternative approaches that you might prefer. Using these latter approaches, you may maintain your nicotine addiction, but you drastically reduce the risks.

So if the stress of studying for the LSAT is making you want to reach for a cigarette, remember that there are many other, less harmful ways to combat stress. And if you’re already hooked on nicotine, remember that there are many ways to retake control of your life and make a change for the better.