College students support smoking restrictions

September 16, 2003

U.S. college students express strong support for tobacco control policies that aim to reduce cigarette smoking on college campuses, according to a new survey by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

As reported in the September 2003 issue of the journal Tobacco Control, most of the students surveyed favored policies ranging from banning smoking in all dormitories and other campus buildings to prohibiting the sale or advertising of tobacco products on campus. Support for all of these policies was stronger among nonsmokers, but even smokers favored making all college buildings smoke-free and prohibiting tobacco company advertising and sponsorship of campus events.

"Smoking among college students increased dramatically over the last decade, and we know that the tobacco industry is marketing its products aggressively to young adults," said Nancy Rigotti, MD, director of the MGH Tobacco Research and Treatment Center, the paper's lead author. In response to this problem, the American College Health Association and the American Cancer Society have each produced recommended tobacco control policies for U.S. colleges. On some campuses, however, college administrators have been reluctant to adopt these restrictions out of concern about student opposition. Until this study, there was no information about what students actually thought of the recommendations.

To elicit students' opinions on tobacco control policies, MGH researchers joined forces with investigators from the HSPH College Alcohol Study, an ongoing survey of students at four-year colleges across the U.S. The 2001 College Alcohol Study survey of almost 11,000 students at 119 U.S. colleges included questions about tobacco use and students' opinions about proposed tobacco control policies.

More than three-quarters of responding students supported banning smoking in all campus buildings, including dormitories and dining halls. Over half the students who currently lived in dormitories where smoking was permitted expressed a preference for smoke-free housing. More than 70 percent of respondents supported prohibiting on-campus tobacco industry marketing or sponsorship of campus social events; 60 percent supported a ban on tobacco sales, and 51 percent approved a smoking ban in on-campus bars.

Although approval of tobacco control measures was lower among smokers, five of the seven proposed policies - including smoke-free dorms and dining halls and bans on tobacco ads and sponsorship - received overall support from smokers. Opposition to the proposed policies was found primarily among the heaviest smokers.

"Fewer than 10 percent of college students smoke as many as 10 cigarettes every day, and this is where most opposition lies," says Rigotti, an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "In fact, almost 40 percent of college students who smoke don't smoke every day, and these smokers support campus tobacco control policies." Smokers who reported planning to quit in the coming month also showed stronger support for tobacco control policies.

"College students are the youngest legal group for the tobacco industry to target, and as a consequence they need protection," says Henry Wechsler, PhD, director of the HSPH College Alcohol Study and a co-author of the current study. "These results give us hope that efforts to reduce or eliminate cigarettes from college campuses can be successful."

"Being able to say that the overwhelming majority of college students want smoke-free environments is a powerful tool. Our findings should reassure college administrators considering banning smoking in dormitories and other actions," Rigotti says. "These policies can help students resist tobacco companies' messages and prepare them for the wider world, where smoke-free environments have become the norm in workplaces, restaurants and even bars."
In addition to Rigotti and Wechsler, the report's co-authors are Susan Regan, PhD, and Susan Moran MD, MSCE, of the MGH Tobacco Research and Treatment Center. The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Massachusetts General Hospital, established in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $350 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, cutaneous biology, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, transplantation biology and photomedicine. In 1994, MGH and Brigham and Women's Hospital joined to form Partners HealthCare System, an integrated health care delivery system comprising the two academic medical centers, specialty and community hospitals, a network of physician groups, and nonacute and home health services.

Massachusetts General Hospital

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