Smoke signals

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Some friends at other colleges are smokers. I hate it. The tobacco ban on their campus is not enforced. What can be done?

The colonists were the first Europeans to discover tobacco in America. Since then, tobacco has been an irritant to the person sitting next to a smoker. Surprisingly, use of tobacco products by college students has increased over the past decades. The government and university administrators have been at a loss to address this growing problem. So, nobody has figured out an answer to your question yet.

Despite never-ending media campaigns and countless health warnings, a third of students still smoke. The tobacco habits of over 14,000 students were surveyed by the Harvard School of Public Health at 119 colleges across the country. Not surprisingly, smoking has increased, not just cigarettes but chewing tobacco and cigars. The warnings are being ignored, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease causing symptoms such as: shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, incontinence, weight loss and more.

The CDC reports smoking-related deaths in the U.S. are over 480,000 per year.

Researchers are still trying to figure out why smoking is a rite of passage for many Millennials and college students. Maybe the freedom of being able to buy a pack at 18, or a certain ‘coolness’ factor attached to seeing celebs in movies smoking.

Colleges are trying to curb the problem, but it seems to be having little or no impact. Nationwide, over 1,400 colleges ban smoking on campus and 1,137 of them claim to be tobacco-free. California state universities vary on smoking policies, Ohio State University encourages a quit smoking campaign and Michigan State University imposes a $150 fine for students caught lighting up.

College smokers are finding ways around the prohibitions, many of them simply leave the campus grounds to smoke or stay at home. The inconvenience of not being able to have a quick smoke between classes does not seem to have deterred them.

Campus administration is advocating a ‘cleaner air’ strategy by banning smoking but are still letting students drive to classes argue campaign opponents. There has been some measured success, 64% of students at Michigan State University claim they have seen a reduction in campus smoking a year after the ban and 4% say they have quit altogether. These numbers though are not ground breaking.

Research indicates that citywide and public bans are more likely to get younger casual smokers to quit than frequent smokers. No smoke advocates are trying to de-normalize smoking and foster a cultural change across campuses. This includes banning smoking in common rooms and dormitories. Harnessing a stigma attached to smokers and a general public decrease in popularity of smoking may have some effect on college students.

It is an uphill struggle though with many of them seeing bans and prohibitions as violating their right to smoke. Columbia University has a policy that allows smoking in designated dorm rooms but only with the consent of all occupants. How they are going to enforce that one is a mystery. A steadily increasing policy of inconveniencing college smokers seems to be the current weapon of choice in the war with tobacco.

Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times… Mark Twain.

Written by Martin J. Young, former correspondent of Asia Times.

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