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New Harvard Studies Suggest Need for Stronger Policies to Reduce Smoking on College Campuses

Smoke-Free Dorms, Better Smoking Cessation Programs Needed to Address Dramatic Increase in Smoking by College Students
March 22, 2001

Washington, DC — Two studies released today by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health find that colleges and universities can reduce smoking among students, which increased dramatically during the 1990s, by making dormitories smoke-free and improving smoking cessation programs. But most colleges and universities are not doing enough.

The studies found that students entering college as non-smokers are 40 percent less likely to take up smoking when they live in smoke-free dorms, but only 27 percent of colleges prohibit smoking in dorms. In addition, more than 40 percent of colleges do not offer smoking cessation programs to help students who want to quit, and the programs that are offered are inadequate. The studies are published this week in the March 2001 issues of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and the Journal of American College Health.

'These studies are a wakeup call to college and university administrators across the nation about the problem of smoking on their campuses,' said Matthew L. Myers, President of the CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS. 'We call on college administrators to heed the findings of these studies by implementing smoke-free dorms and improving smoking cessation programs. These steps can discourage young people from starting to smoke, protect non-smokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke and help those who are already addicted to quit.'

A previous study (released in August 2000) showed that rates of current (30-day) smoking among college students increased by more than one-fourth between 1993 and 1997 (from 22 to 28 percent) and remained at the higher level in 1999.

The researchers attribute this increase to an earlier rise in tobacco use among high school and middle school students, which reached historically high levels during the 1990s. They state that 'it may also reflect new tobacco industry marketing efforts that target young adults, aged 18 to 24.' Recent media reports have documented tobacco company sponsorship of bar nights, band contests, magazine advertising and other forms of marketing effective at reaching college-age customers.

'What we're seeing today among college students should come as no surprise. It's the children of the Marlboro man and Joe Camel that are now entering college and smoking at record rates,' said William V. Corr, Executive Vice President of the CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS. 'And the tobacco companies are still aggressively targeting them with music concerts, bar nights and ads in magazines with attractive young people. We must be equally aggressive in implementing policies and programs to prevent these young people from starting to smoke and to help those who want to quit.'

The first study, in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined smoking rates among students who live in smoke-free dorms versus those who live in unrestricted housing. The second study, in the American Journal of College Health, assessed college policies on smoking in dormitories and the availability and quality of their smoking cessation programs. Key findings include:

  • Non smokers are 40 percent less likely to become smokers if they live in smoke-free dorms, but only 27 percent of colleges prohibit smoking in dorms.

  • The relationship of type of residence to smoking status differed according to students' smoking histories. Among students who were not regular smokers before age 19, current cigarette use was significantly lower for those living in smoke-free housing than for those in unrestricted housing. Among students who had smoked regularly before age 19, there was no difference in current cigarette use by housing type.

  • More than 40 percent of health directors reported that their school did not offer smoking cessation programs.

  • Of schools with cessation programs, only 31 percent reported having individualized counseling. Only 25 percent offer comprehensive programs with counseling, screening and assessment by a physician or health professional. Only 19 percent offer cessation products approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

  • Colleges reported little student demand for existing cessation programs. Eighty-eight percent of schools with programs reported no waiting lists for the programs offered and six percent reported discontinuing smoking cessation programs due to lack of student demand. The researchers concluded that colleges need to better tailor cessation programs to students' needs, as well as market them more effectively.

The first study is based on a nationally representative sample of college students at U.S. four-year colleges surveyed in the spring of 1999 by the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study. The smoking behavior of 4,495 students at 101 schools offering smoke-free housing options was examined. The second study surveyed health center directors at 604 four-year U.S. colleges and universities. The research was supported by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has just launched a substance abuse resource center.

Factsheet: Tobacco Company Marketing to College Students Since the Multistate Settlement Agreement was Signed