Students Entering College As NonSmokers 40 Percent Less Likely to Take up Smoking When they Live in Smoke-Free Dorms
BOSTON, MA (March 23, 2001) -- College students who live in smoke-free dorms are 40 percent less likely to take up smoking than their counterparts who live in unrestricted housing, according to a new study being released today by the Harvard School of Pub
The first study appears in the March 2001 issue of
the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and is
based on a nationally representative sample of college
students at U.S. four-year colleges surveyed in the
spring of 1999. That study examined the smoking
behavior of 4,495 students at 101 schools offering
smoke-free housing options. The second study, appearing
in the March 2001 issue of the Journal of American
College Health, surveyed health center directors at 604,
four-year U.S. colleges and universities. This research
was supported by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,
which has just launched a substance abuse resource
center at http://substanceabuse.rwjf.org.
"These findings suggest that smoke-free dorms may help
incoming college students who have not yet taken up
smoking avoid tobacco addiction during college," said
Henry Wechsler, PhD, Principal Investigator of both
studies and Director of College Alcohol Studies at the
Harvard School of Public Health. "While the difference
in smoking rates may be, in part, due to self-selection
by students into smoke-free housing, these residences
appear to be protective. They also prevent nonsmokers
from being exposed to the harmful effects of secondhand
smoke and the risk of dormitory fires. All in all,
smoke-free residences are a win-win situation."
"The college years are a time of transition in smoking
behavior of young people because many are experimenting
with tobacco, others are starting to smoke regularly,
and still others are trying to quit," said Nancy Rigotti,
MD, Director of Tobacco Research and Treatment at Massachusetts
General Hospital and Associate Professor at Harvard Medical
At the same time, college students are also the youngest
legal targets for tobacco marketing, making up some 5.3
million young adults, said Wechsler. "Given the
vulnerability of college students to this very addictive
substance and the negative health effects of secondhand
smoke, colleges should seriously consider making all
dorms smoke-free. At a minimum, colleges should offer
enough smoke-free dorms for all those who are requesting
them, which is not the case right now." Currently,
according to the researchers, 44 percent of students
live in smoke-free dorms, while another 29 percent do
not live in them, but would like to.
Smoke-free dorms may serve as a smoking prevention tool
by limiting the opportunity and time for smoking and
reducing the influence of smokers on their nonsmoking
peers, according to the researchers.
The study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine
found that 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 (10 percent) than for those
in unrestricted housing (16.9 percent). Among students
who had smoked regularly before age 19, there was no
difference in current cigarette use by housing type.
The lower rate of current cigarette use in smoke-free
housing compared to unrestricted housing was true for
almost all types of colleges and for most types of students.
A previous study (released in August 2000) showed that rates
of current (30-day) smoking among college students jumped by
more than one-fourth between 1993 and 1997 (from 22 percent
to 28 percent), and remained at the higher level in 1999.
This is a significant shift as, in the past, college students
have been relatively strong resistors of involvement with
tobacco. Much of the recent rise is probably due to an
earlier rise in tobacco use among high school and middle
school students. "It may also reflect newer tobacco
industry marketing efforts that target young adults,
aged 18 to 24," write the researchers in the first new
study. Nearly half (46 percent) of college students
report having used tobacco products in the previous year.
"College students experiment with all types of tobacco
products, and this can easily lead to addiction," said
But, many colleges offer no cessation programs to students
who are interested in quitting, and most college programs
that are offered still lack key elements of effective adult
cessation programs, according to the researchers. For
example, the study in the American Journal of College
Health finds that only 31 percent of schools with cessation
programs offer "individualized support;" only 25 percent
offer counseling, screening, and assessment by a physician
or health professional; and only 19 percent offer FDA-approved
"What we know from public health service guidelines
published in 2000 is that the components of effective
cessation treatment include both behavioral counseling
and pharmacological therapy and that a combination of the
two are best," said Rigotti. "Based on this study, it is
safe to say that colleges are not even providing what is
considered 'the state of the art' for adult cessation programs."
However, the researchers say that not much is known about
exactly what types of cessation programs will work in young
adults. "College students are at an intersection between
childhood and adulthood and, therefore, may need more
tailored cessation programs," said Rigotti. "In the
absence of better data, it certainly makes sense for
colleges to adapt and provide students with what we
know works in adults."
But, such programs would need to be marketed effectively,
according to the researchers. As of now, even where
colleges did offer smoking cessation programs, there was
little student demand for those programs, according to
the study in the American Journal of College Health.
Specifically, 80 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.
"There is a great need for efforts to increase the success
rate of the substantial number of smokers who are already
trying to quit," said Rigotti. Previous research has shown
that half of college student smokers had tried to quit
smoking in the previous year. "Despite this, students do
not appear to be using existing college resources to do so.
These efforts are more likely to be successful if they are
paired with environmental and policy changes, such as
The findings released today are available in two articles:
"Cigarette Use by College Students in Smoke-Free Housing:
Results of a National Study" by Henry Wechsler, PhD,
Jae Eun Lee, DrPH, Nancy A. Rigotti, MD, American Journal
of Preventive Medicine, March 2001 (Volume 20, Issue 3).
"College Smoking Policies and Smoking Cessation Programs:
Results of a Survey of College Health Directors" by Henry
Wechsler, PhD, Kathleen Kelley, MBA, Mark Seibring, BA/BS,
Meichun Kuo, ScD, and Nancy A. Rigotti, MD, American Journal
of College Health, March 2001 (Volume 49, Issue 5).