During the '40s and '50s, cigarettes were synonymous with sex appeal and sophistication. Smokers could light up just about anywhere, from airplanes to doctors' offices to their college dorm rooms. It wasn't until the early 1960s when health officials began warning against the dangers, with The Surgeon General releasing the first report linking cigarettes to cancer, heart disease and emphysema in 1964.
Since then, we've come a long way in our understanding of smoking's health effects. It's now common knowledge that tobacco use can play a role in many other serious illnesses and health problems — not to mention how it directly or indirectly causes the death of hundreds of thousands each year. As a result, greater regulations have been placed on cigarettes, limiting their marketing, sale and use in a variety of ways.
Over the past decade, as the negative health effects become increasingly clear, smoking has been banned in many public places, restaurants and bars throughout 27 states — though sporting varying levels of flexibility. Colleges, many of which sit on public and state property, haven't been exempt from these. In addition to following state regulations, many schools have issued an outright ban of using products on campus. Many others hold strict rules about where and when tobacco products are allowed.
It's safe to say that lot has changed since those innocent days in the '50s, when students puffed away blissfully unaware of the health dangers their habit posed. Here, we take a look at how a number of colleges across the nation are dealing with smoking today, and the ways in which students and faculty are responding to the growing number of relevant campus bans.
The Facts About Cigarette Smoking on College Campuses
Why are smoking bans such a big deal on college campuses? These numbers demonstrate that there still exists a surprisingly large number of students who smoke — many are daily users.
- In 1981, 8% of college students smoked. By 1998, the number jumped to 28%. It might seem counterintuitive that the number of college students who smoke actually rose during the '80s and '90s, but the statistics don't lie.
- Today, about 20% of college students smoke. This figure is surprisingly high, given the readily available information on cigarettes' health effects. Not to mention well above U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' goals.
- College students are less likely to smoke than their peers who are not enrolled. Among 18- to 22-year-olds who are not in college, 35.7% smoke.
- Among the major reasons college students smoke – stress, peer pressure, low self-esteem and a desire to not gain weight. These reasons have changed little for young smokers over the past few decades.
- A 2008 survey found that 66% of college students had never smoked. Surprising, especially when compared to alcohol use on campus, as only 23% have never had a drink.
- College smokers are equally male and female. While males are more likely try cigarettes in their lifetime (68% versus 61% of females), there is little difference in daily smoking rates.
- At colleges that provide prevention-oriented education, students are 23% less likely to smoke. It seems that education may play a major role in discouraging young people from cigarettes. Students exposed to preventive classes are much less likely to smoke than those who aren't.
- Only 11% of adults with a college degree smoke. There are some striking correlations between education and tobacco use. About 49% of adults with a GED smoke, versus 5.6% of adults with a graduate degree.
- White college students are more likely to smoke than any other racial group. White college students smoke much more often than those who identify as African-American, Hispanic or Asian.
- Smoking is more common in freshman, sophomores and juniors. Wisdom may just come with age, as college seniors and fifth-year students are much less likely to smoke than their underclassmen peers.
- Over half of college smokers have tried to quit within the last year. Whether it's over a health issue or the cost, 54% of college smokers have tried to quit. Sadly, by graduation, only 13% of them will be successful.
The Changing Tide
Currently, there are over 530 colleges that are totally or partially smoke free. Many ban the practice everywhere on campus, including residential housing facilities. They're part of a growing number of places where cigarette smoke simply isn't welcome. Though each school takes its own approach to how it regulates tobacco use, here are just a few of the most common methods.
- Many schools disallow smoking as part of a larger, statewide clean air act. There are more than a few states that ban smoking in public places, and many colleges and universities are included. For example, New York's Clean Indoor Air Act was revamped in 2008 to include any dormitories, residence halls or other group housing facilities — as well as university buildings, whether at a public or private school. Iowa also bans smoking in all public and private colleges, in accordance with its 2008 Smokefree Air Act.
- Other states have specific bans on smoking at colleges and universities. One state leading the way is Arkansas, which passed the Arkansas Clean Air on Campus Act in 2009. The act prohibits smoking at all public institutions of higher education. Fines can be quite steep for violating that law — currently sitting between $100 and $500.
- A growing number of schools are going entirely smoke-free. This means no smoking, no sale of tobacco products and the establishment of cessation programs. Schools that have opted to go this route include Illinois State University, Salem State University, all Pennsylvania state university campuses and, as of this fall, the University of Kentucky. There are more than 460 smoke-free campuses in all.
- Others are taking it one step further and banning all tobacco.The University of Washington prohibits the sale, advertising, and promotion of tobacco products of all kinds, as does Colorado Mountain College. These schools are following health guidelines laid out by the CDC, with the aim of helping students become healthier and better educated on tobacco use's negative effects.
- Some states have very strict laws about smoking in student housing. In 2006, New Jersey passed the strongest residential housing law in the country, which requires both public and private colleges to prohibit smoking in such facilities. Other states, like Illinois and Wisconsin, have similar bans in effect – all designed to protect students and staff from the effects of secondhand smoke.
- Because the tobacco industry often targets college students, some campuses are restricting marketing. Schools such as the University of Arizona and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh don't allow the marketing of any tobacco product anywhere.
- Many schools are offering smoking cessation programs. Seventy percent of U.S. colleges and universities offer some form of smoking cessation program through student health insurance. Temple University is one such example, with comprehensive help including counseling, a quit plan, nicotine replacement and ongoing support. A similar program is available to students at Cornell, which hopes to reduce the number of undergraduate students who smoke.
While generally favored, smoking bans haven't gone without controversy. Many feel the bans are a violation of personal freedoms, as cigarettes are legal and the vast majority of college kids meet the minimum age requirement. These students feel that schools put undue burden on them by making them trek quite far out of their way just to light up. Others have gone so far as to call the bans "a petty crusade against bad habits." Some restrictions, like those at Salem State, have caused outright protest, with students piling butts on campus to show their dislike.
Students who smoke aren't the only ones who have problems with smoking bans and regulations, however. Some schools are so lax about enforcing the regulations, many feel there isn't much point to them at all. Schools such as Ohio State University and The University of Iowa are finding out that mandating smoking bans (and the fines that go with them) is pretty hard, especially on a large campus with budgets that are already stretched paper thin.
Yet as fewer people in America are smoking and attitudes change, it's clear that colleges and universities banning or limiting the practice on campus are only responding to a growing trend and public demand for more cigarette-free spaces.