As of July 1, 2018, approximately 2,212 U.S. college and university campuses are now entirely smoke-free, according data provided by the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. A majority of these institutions (1,853 in total) are also completely tobacco free, and 1,790 of them report that they have eliminated the use of e-cigarettes, too.
This is obviously great news for those who are trying to stop this potentially deadly behavior, but why is the issue of smoking among college students so important?
College Students and Smoking: The Concern
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 12.3 million of the students currently attending postsecondary institutions are between the ages of 18 and 24. This is roughly three-fifths of the total college population.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that for this particular age group, 13 out of every 100 currently smoke. While this number isn’t necessarily enough to start sounding any alarms, it’s this demographic’s attitude toward this particular behavior that makes it more of a concern.
In 2017, in conjunction with the Truth Initiative and the American Cancer Society, CVS pharmacies surveyed 2,880 individuals and asked them how they felt about smoking. Based on their results, they learned that three out of four respondents believed that both smoking and tobacco use in general are “a problem” for college students.
In fact, this issue is perceived as being so important to this particular demographic that 53 percent of parents and 57 percent of the students surveyed said they would consider a college’s stance on smoking before ultimately deciding where to go to school. Also, 8 out of 10 said that they prefer smoke- and vape-free living quarters.
Reasons Why College Students Smoke
In their research, CVS also discovered that targeted marketing by tobacco companies may be contributing to the issue. For instance, while 51 percent of the total respondents reported seeing tobacco ads once or more per week, 73 percent of college students indicated the same.
Actual depictions of tobacco use increased for this demographic as well, rising from 58 percent of all respondents to 79 percent for students specifically. Certainly, this type of heavy-duty advertising campaign has the ability to impact whether college students decide to smoke, but there are other reasons as well.
For example, according to one study published in the Journal of American College Health, a large majority of college smokers (70 percent) report that they smoke only when in some type of social setting. This may be while they are at a party or any other type of event students attend to socialize with one another.
Social setting has been found to be “an important factor” in cigarette smoking in numerous pieces of research, according to this study. This is why tobacco manufacturers tend to target these types of environments, the study reports.
So, who is most at risk for smoking while taking college-level courses?
Smoking Risk Factors in a College Setting
If you’re looking at the population in general, the CDC’s data reports that women tend to smoke more often than men (17.5 percent versus 13.5 percent, respectively). Additionally, non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest smoking rates (31.8 percent), especially when compared to non-Hispanic multiple race individuals (25.2 percent), blacks (16.5 percent), whites (16.6 percent), Hispanics (10.7 percent), and Asians (9 percent).
Socioeconomic status matters too, with 25.3 percent of individuals living below the poverty level indicating that they smoke, a number that is much higher than the 14.3 percent who smoke while living at or above this economic rate. Even geographic location has an impact, with the Midwest having the highest number of smokers (18.5 percent) and the West reporting the lowest (12.3 percent).
According to the CDC, individuals who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual also tend to smoke at a higher rate than adults who say they are heterosexual (20.5 percent versus 15.3 percent). And if an individual is in serious psychological distress, he or she is more than twice as likely to smoke (35.8 percent) than someone who is not (14.7 percent).
One study even found that there are differences between college students who smoke daily and those who smoke less frequently. This particular piece of research was published in the American Journal of Health Behavior and involved 4,100 random students who completed an online survey. Of the 29 percent who said that they currently smoked, 70 percent indicated that they did not do it on a daily basis.
This research also found that there were differences between the daily smokers and the nondaily smokers. Based on the data, it was revealed that “nondaily smokers were younger, African American (compared to white), had mothers with higher education, belonged to Greek organizations, and attended private (vs. public) schools.” This study also found that nondaily smokers had lower rates of illicit drug use.
Effects of Smoking (Both Well-Known and Relatively Unknown)
Thanks to the many quit-smoking campaigns that are in existence today, many of us are more aware that picking up this habit can be deadly.
However, what a lot of people don’t realize is that it is so deadly that it actually kills more people per year than illegal drug use, alcohol use, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), motor vehicle injuries, and firearm-related injuries combined, according to the CDC. In all, smoking has taken the lives of more than 10 times the number of military personnel who have died while fighting for our country.
Additionally, while smoking raises one’s risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer, the American Lung Association (ALA) reveals that it has lesser-known effects as well. Among them are an increased risk of going blind, developing type 2 diabetes, and erectile dysfunction. Smoking can also increase a person’s risk of hip fractures, colorectal cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.
If you’re a female, not only has smoking has been found to reduce your risk of pregnancy in general, but it also increases your risk of ectopic pregnancy, a potentially life-threatening condition in which a fertilized egg becomes implanted outside the uterus. And if you do get pregnant and continue to smoke, there’s a higher likelihood that your baby will be born with a cleft lip or palate.
Gum disease is also fairly common for smokers, according to the ALA. This is because it contributes to periodontitis, a condition characterized by infection in the gums that subsequently destroys the bones that support your teeth. Though this may sound grim, the human body can begin to reverse some of these effects within minutes of having your last cigarette.
The Fast Impact of Quitting Smoking
Healthline reports that within approximately 20 minutes of stopping smoking, your blood pressure and pulse both start to normalize. And in 72 hours, you’ll likely feel that it’s easier to breathe.
Make it about a week without smoking and your chances of success increase by about nine times. Go two weeks and, in addition to breathing easier, you’ll likely find that walking isn’t as difficult as it used to be.
Approximately 30 days after quitting, you may notice that your energy has increased and your mucus production has decreased, resulting in fewer bacterial infections. A full 90 days later, fertility starts to return with reduced risks of premature birth.
Positive effects of quitting continue to appear long past your last drag, with the six-month anniversary of your final cigarette often bringing about an easier time dealing with stress and even more of a reduction in mucus and phlegm.
At the one-year mark, breathing is even easier than before. And at three years, you’ve reduced your risk of heart attack to be the same as a nonsmoker. Make it five years and your risk of lung cancer decreases by half.
By 15 years, you have the same heart attack and stroke risk as someone who never picked up the habit to begin with. So, what can you do to help you quit and start to enjoy all of these benefits?
Options to Help You Quit
Smokefree.gov offers a number of programs designed to help individuals stop smoking, so you can choose one or more that best suits your personality and needs. For instance, one of their programs is texting-focused, and it involved them sending you texts you up to five times a day for 6-8 weeks. These texts are designed to offer both encouragement and helpful tips, increasing the chance that you’ll succeed in your smoke-free journey.
Other programs offered by Smokefree.gov include smoke-free apps and smoke-free social media. You’ll also find information about nicotine replacement therapy and tips for building a solid quit plan on this site.
The ALA says that there are seven different medications that can potentially help you quit. However, it is imperative that if you decide to take this route, you need to follow the directions completely and not try to get off them too early if you want them to work.
Also, when it comes to quitting successfully, it’s important to know exactly what to expect. For instance, the first 7-10 days are the hardest and you’ll likely face some challenges along the way. In addition to having the urge to smoke, some of these challenges include gaining weight and experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
If you’ve never quit smoking, Healthline says that most people experience sweating, nausea, constipation, headaches, coughing, sore throat, anxiety, irritability, and depression. It’s also possible that you’ll feel tingling in the hands and feet, and difficulty sleeping. While these may be uncomfortable to work through, knowing about and preparing for them beforehand can ultimately help you fight the urge to return to your smoking habit.
Wouldn’t it be ideal to graduate from college with a degree and a better bill of health? It’s a definite possibility if you avoid smoking altogether or make the decision to kick the habit once and for all, giving you two good reasons to celebrate your future.