The American Lung Association released a report last month that found that the smoking rate among college students is lower than ever before. Although one in five college students smoked cigarettes in 2006, the lowest rate since 1989, experts say the rate may increase again.
“Obviously we‘re hopeful that the rate will continue to decline in California especially, but there is no guarantee that it will,” said Thomas Carr, manager of national policies for the ALA.
After the previous all-time low in 1989, smoking rates rose again within a decade to a record high in 1999, when one in three college students were smoking. The decline in the college smoking rate since 1999 can be attributed to higher price tags on cigarettes, cigarette taxes and expanded smoke-free laws in public places, Carr said.
According to the report, most college student smokers began smoking in high school. They are equally likely to be male or female and are predominately white. College smokers are likely to be social smokers and are more likely than nonsmokers to also use alcohol or other substances. Fraternity and sorority members reported higher smoking rates. Students reported that they frequently use smoking to relieve stress or depression.
The perception gap of how common students believe smoking is among their peers is still higher than the actuality. The American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment survey reported in 2006 that 86 percent of college students thought that their peers smoked at least one cigarette in the past month. The reality is that 22 percent of college students have smoked a cigarette in the last month, Carr said.
“People being around their peers see smoking a lot and assume people smoke more often than they do,” said Carr. “Also on college campuses there is higher degree of social smoking, like smoking only when they drink.“
Tobacco companies continue to target young adults in college, honing on the transition period from home to college. Tobacco advertising rose 20 percent in 1999 and by 2005 tobacco companies had shifted their marketing strategies to focus on adult entertainment events by sponsoring events in bars, nightclubs and concerts. The report cites that the aim is to make occasional or experimenting students into regular and daily smokers. The industry spends $13.1 billion every year on advertising and promotions.
A smoke-free policy was implemented on July 1, 2008 at the UC Davis Medical Center and all surrounding medical facilities. All 140 acres at the Sacramento campus are smoke-free.
“Certainly this hasn’t stopped all smoking,” said Charlie Casey, senior public information officer for the UC Davis Health System. “People are smoking on peripheries and off-campus sites. There is still some of that but it’s a cultural change that is going to take time for people to become aware. We have gotten great feedback from staff, patients and families that they no longer have to walk through clouds of smoke to get here, though.“
Casey was on the steering committee that spent a year working the smoke-free policy, including the communication, training video and building awareness.
“We are getting calls from other institutions and hospitals who want to know how we went about to get our campus smoke free,” he said. “We had probably five or six hospital systems around Northern California that want to know what we did to implement our policy this past July. It’s a snowball effect.“
The other goal of the initiative offers cessation classes, which continue to draw large numbers. Nicotine gum and counseling are also offered at no cost to employees. Not all employees are taking advantages of these services, however, said Shelton Duruisseau, senior associate director for the UC Davis Medical Center.
“We seem to have better success with patients and their families and visitors,” Duruisseau said. “I don’t see [students] smoking as much as I used to. I’m in a building where the students come in the building all the time. I just don’t see them smoking. Very rarely do I see them congregating around on campus. Some kind of way they seem to get it. Where we are having our problem is with the people who have been smoking for the past 30 years, not so much with the students.”
In the next year, there will be plans to expand the policy to all 27 primary clinic offices around the Sacramento region: Rockland, Downtown Sacramento, Rancho Cordova and Elk Grove.
“Just about every pubic institution is talking about no smoking,” Duruisseau said. “I think the students seem to get it.“
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.