American college students are falling victim to aggressive tobacco industry marketing tactics as one in five continue to smoke, according to a new report released by the American Lung Association.
The report provides a comprehensive overview of the current status of tobacco use and policies on college and university campuses in the US. The American Lung Association analysed published research, surveys and tobacco industry documents to provide a wide-ranging look at the impact tobacco has in today’s college life.
The report found fewer college students are smoking than ever before, but the American Lung Association warned that smoking rates were nearly this low in 1989 and then skyrocketed in the following decade to a new peak high of 30.6 percent. Contributing to that unstable smoking trend is the tobacco industry. In 2005, the tobacco industry spent more than $1 million a day sponsoring events and giveaways targeting college students. The report also notes that of 119 schools surveyed in one study, students at 109 schools reported seeing tobacco promotions in an event on campus.
“The industry’s return on investment is staggering,” said Bernadette A. Toomey, American Lung Association President and CEO. “Nearly 20 percent of today’s college students are regular smokers. Even worse is their continued campaign to increase these numbers. Every college student in America has a target on their back as far as the tobacco industry is concerned.”
The report also notes that the smoking habits of college-age adults are more fluid – switching more easily between daily and occasional smoking – than that of older adults. This characteristic indicates a key opportunity to intervene and reduce smoking rates among young adults.
Review of the tobacco industry’s own archives revealed programmatic campaigns to target young adults during transitional life stages. Moving from high school to college or work has been identified by the industry as a prime time for developing and cementing new behaviours like smoking. Tobacco companies exploit this vulnerability by sponsoring promotions in bars and nightclubs to encourage smoking as a social norm in efforts to move students from “experimental” to pack-a-day smokers.
The report indicates many students view smoking as a social norm among their peers. In the fall of 2006, the American College Health Association reported that 86 percent of college students perceived that their peers smoked at least one cigarette a month. Conversely, data from that same survey indicated that just 22 percent of college students smoked cigarettes at some point in the preceding 30 days.
The American Lung Association urges university leaders to stand up against Big Tobacco and implement measures to protect their students from the industry’s predatory practices.
“Colleges and universities have a responsibility to provide safe spaces in which their students can learn and live,” said Toomey. “This should include an environment free from second-hand smoke and advertising that encourages young adults to use deadly tobacco products.”
The American Lung Association calls upon the higher education community to join the Smokefree Air 2010 Challenge, a nationwide movement to eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke in public places and workplaces no later than 2010 and reduce smoking-related illnesses, by implementing the following policies and initiatives in this school year:
- Prohibit tobacco use at all indoor and outdoor facilities, private offices, residence halls and dormitories.
- Stop the sale and advertising of tobacco products on campus and in college controlled publications, properties and events.
- Refuse all research and sponsorship funding from the tobacco industry.
- Provide smoking cessation programs to all students, faculty and staff.
- Implement and enforce strong policies to aid in the prevention, cessation and elimination of tobacco use across campus.
- Educate students and faculty about the harmful effects of using tobacco products, the resources available for cessation and campus policies.
- Promote and fund research to design and implement smoking and tobacco use interventions that specifically target college students.
- Lobby state legislatures to create laws to prohibit tobacco use on campus.
(Source: Big Tobacco on Campus: American Lung Association: September 2008)