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High-Risk Populations

98% of adult smokers start before age 26.

  • First year students: Most freshmen are living away from home for the first time, making them susceptible to peer pressure. This brand new autonomy, and less structured environment, can lead to students picking up smoking on a more than casual basis. Looking for ways to make new friends could lead freshmen to start smoking without realizing the addictive properties and serious health risks.
  • Greek Life: partying image associated with fraternities and sororities puts members of Greek organizations at special risk for tobacco use. Data from the College Alcohol Study revealed that belonging to a Greek organization was positively associated with smoking status (Emmons, 1998)
  • LGBTQ: Used to combat stress, tobacco may help the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community find a way to deal with issues of coming out. Conversely, it can also serve as a stress relief to LGBTQ students who are not ready to come out yet, but are avoiding exclusion. Because of this added stress, a 2001 study found that LGBTQ adolescents were 1.5 times more likely to smoke cigarettes than the average adolescent. As they transition to adulthood, this rate goes down, making the late-adolescent time in college critical to keeping this community off tobacco (Ryan, 2001).
  • Art/Theater students: Typically, art students take studio format classes, characterized by long, uninterrupted blocks of studio time. Breaks administered by the instructor can result in a clustering effect of smokers, attracting non-smokers who seek more time away from class. Set breaks from theater productions can lead to this same grouping of students who form a pack of smokers. For both art and theater students, cigarettes have the added allure of seeming artsy, or theatrical.
  • Women: Smoking is often linked with weight and body image. Women often tend to be concerned about their weight management, and cigarettes play a key role in that. Smoking helps them maintain a lower weight, and also provides stress management for women in courses of study where weight could be an issue, such as fashion design or theater.
  • Athletes: Sometimes seen as a healthy alternative to smoking, athletes consistently use smokeless (spit or chew) tobacco more frequently than their non-athlete counterparts. Smoking can be seen as negatively impacting performance, while smokeless tobacco use is less likely than cigarettes to affect lung capacity, strength, or overall fitness. It is easier to use in a practice or even game setting where there is a lot of standing around and boredom can sometimes set in during a long, slow game.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health: People living with substance abuse and mental health disorders are two to four times more likely to smoke.  And nearly 44% of cigarettes consumed in the US are by people living with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders.

Peer Reviewed Research on College Students and Tobacco Use