Colleges nationwide are overwhelmed with alcohol and drug problems, with alcohol being an illegal substance for nearly half of the undergraduate population and drugs illegal for all. However, one of the biggest problems on college campuses is both legal and deadly. This commonly known problem is smoking.
Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and death. The government says it kills more than 400,000 Americans per year. Smoking causes a host of health problems such as lung cancer, heart disease and weakness.
According to www.betterhealth.com, 3,000 teenagers begin smoking everyday. The question is, what is happening to the older people who started out when they were the 18 to 24-year-olds in college?
Many young smokers think they are as healthy as nonsmokers and other smokers their age. Young smokers are not worried about the health effects of tobacco, according to a survey of college students published in College Life Magazine.
"I don’t understand what people get out of smoking," said Lauren Clivens, a 19-year-old junior finance major. "If you’re going to smoke cigarettes, you might as well put a gun to your head. All you’re doing is killing yourself."
Smoking is a hard habit to break because tobacco contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. Like heroin or other addictive drugs, the body and mind quickly becomes use to the nicotine in cigarettes.
Some people, especially women, start smoking because they think it may help keep their weight down. The illnesses that smoking can cause can lead to weight loss, which can be deadly.
Another reason people start smoking is because their family members smoke. Most adults who started smoking in their teens never expected to get addicted. That is why Clivens feels it is easier not to smoke at all.
In response to a recent boost in smoking by college students, an increasing number of colleges and universities are accepting smoking bans in academic buildings and dorms.
A recent Alabama State University study found that nearly 33 percent of college students, or about 3.8 million students, smoke cigarettes. This represents a 28 percent increase from four years ago. In addition, the study found that 47 percent more black students were smoking, and more than 36 percent of the students were female.
"This is the biggest increase in smoking among students we have seen in over 13 years," said Mary Harrell, principal coordinator for the Upward Bound program at Southern University in Baton Rouge.
According to a survey of the nation’s 30 largest colleges and universities by USA TODAY, 10 prohibit smoking in any of their dorm rooms or apartments, and another nine set aside only 10 percent of their housing for smokers.
This coming spring semester, at least eight of the largest schools will ban smoking in its dorms.
"This is a policy grounded on clear and concise medical facts," said Alice Robinson, an advisor of student affairs at Southern University at Baton Rouge. "There are more serious life consequences from smoking than anything that I could distribute as an advisor. It’s the duty of the university to continue to teach these lessons. If it takes banning smoking, I have no problem with that."
College students say that the increase in smoking cannot be blamed on advertising or peer pressure. Many students see smoking as a part of college life, and most believe they will stop smoking as soon as they leave school.
"A lot of people smoke in college, but that doesn’t mean there are a lot of smokers," said Shaunathan Merrick, a junior at Xavier University majoring in Pharmacy. "It’s just a bad habit for me. I don’t see how I could get hooked."
Merrick is not the only one who has this problem. In addition to the Alabama State study, there was also a study conducted at the University of New Orleans. This study found that 75 percent of college students who smoke daily and 34 percent of occasional smokers were still smoking four years after graduating, which dismisses the belief that most college aged students can quit smoking within a few years.
Some health professionals may be concerned that the growing number of college smokers will have a serious impact on their health. Because social smokers don’t think of smoking as a bad habit, they could be setting themselves up for a lifelong habit and addiction to nicotine.