Smoke Free Campus Policies: How to Reduce Smoking Among College Students

Young adults have the highest smoking rates in the U.S., and most smokers start before age 26, so reducing tobacco use among this group is a big priority for the nation’s health. Smoke free campuses can help make this goal a reality.

It’s estimated that 99% of smokers first try smoking before age 26. Smoking is associated with a multitude of health problems, including (but not limited to) lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and leads to an average of a decade of life lost, so reducing the number of youth and young adults who start smoking is essential. Cigarette smoking among college students is a particularly critical problem due to the high smoking rates in the 18 to 25 age group, and smoke free campus policies are one of the most important tools in bringing this rate down.

Smoking Among College Students – The Statistics

Although estimates of the smoking rate among college students varies, the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health provides smoking statistics broken down by age, and shows that the 18 to 25 age group smokes more than any other. The results show that 35% of young adults used tobacco in some form, and 28.4% were cigarette smokers. In comparison, the rates in those aged 26 and older were 25.8% for all tobacco use and 21.5% for cigarette smoking.

These results show that young adults of college age have the highest smoking rates in the country, and the Surgeon General’s 2012 report on Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults stresses that prevention measures should focus on this age group. The report also stresses the importance of peer pressure, perceived social norms and smoking in popular media as important factors in establishing smoking among college students, and also draws attention to tobacco industry marketing practices.

“Social” Smoking  Among College Students – A Unique Issue

Studies addressing smoking among college students often find that the majority of college-age smokers don’t actually smoke every day. For example, a study using data from 2005 found that while 29% of college students were smokers, 7 out of 10 of these were non-daily smokers. This non-daily smoking is often “social” smoking – where you smoke during social situations but not ordinarily. As you may expect, other studies have found that these non-daily and social smokers aren’t as addicted to nicotine as daily smokers, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t have a problem, and it doesn’t mean it won’t get worse.

Another study (Caldiera, et. al., 2012) looked at the trajectories of this non-daily smoking in a group of college students, and found that about half of college smokers started as non-daily smokers and continued at the same level, but around 23% increased their smoking. Those smoking more cigarettes per day in their first year were more likely to increase their smoking.

Smoke Free Campus Policies: Helping to Bring Down the College Smoking Rate

Many colleges are now instituting smoke free campus policies. This bans smoking on college grounds, and is an understandably effective approach for tackling smoking among college-age students. Not only does this protect non-smokers from the effects of second-hand smoking, but it also encourages social and non-daily smokers to refrain from smoking more often.

A study (Seo, et. al., 2011) looked at the effect of these policies by comparing two colleges, one of which instituted a smoke free campus policy during the study period. The results showed that the students who attended the college that went smoke free reduced their smoking, were less likely to say that substantial numbers of students smoked, were less likely to say that smoking was acceptable and looked more favorably upon regulation of tobacco.

Overall, smoke free campus policies have numerous benefits, in both their effect on the smoking rate and on perceptions of tobacco use among college students.

Reducing Smoking Among College Students

Although the increasing number of smoke free college campuses is great news for the problem of smoking among college students, the effort must be continued if we’re going to reduce the number of smokers in society. More colleges need to be encouraged to go smoke free, and prevention campaigns targeted specifically at college-age smokers and social or non-daily smokers should be used.

There are many effective approaches to quitting, and these should be made as easily available to college students as possible. Medications such as Zyban and Chantix are very effective, but alternative nicotine products like patches, gums, inhalers, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes can all have a positive effect on smoking rates. In some cases, e-cigarettes are exempt from smoke-free campus policies, and this could serve as an effective incentive to switch to lower-risk nicotine sources for students who can’t or don’t want to quit.

Regardless of which approach is used, reducing smoking among college students and young people is the most effective way to create a tobacco-free world. It cuts off the tobacco industry’s supply of new customers at the source.