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Fewer College Kids Smoking, But Industry Tactics a Threat

Tobacco firms spend $1M a day sponsoring campus events, giveaways, lung association says

TUESDAY, Sept. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Fewer U.S. college students (1 in 5) are smoking than ever before, but college and university leaders need to take a stand against aggressive tobacco industry marketing tactics to ensure student smoking rates don't increase, a new American Lung Association report finds.

"Colleges and universities have a responsibility to provide safe spaces in which their students can learn and live. This should include an environment free from secondhand smoke and advertising that encourages young adults to use deadly tobacco products," Bernadette A. Toomey, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a news release about the report released Sept. 8.

The report authors analyzed published research, surveys and tobacco industry documents to assess the impact tobacco has on college students.

College student smoking rates in 1989 were nearly as low as they are now but surged in the following decade to reach a high of 30.6 percent, the report said. The tobacco industry plays a major role in fluctuating college student smoking rates. For example, in 2005, the tobacco industry spent more than $1 million a day sponsoring events and giveaways targeting college students. One study found that students at 109 of 119 schools surveyed reported seeing tobacco promotions in an on-campus event, the report said.

"The industry's return on investment is staggering. Nearly 20 percent of today's college students are regular smokers. Even worse is (the tobacco industry's) continued campaign to increase these numbers. Every college student in American has a target on their back as far as the tobacco industry is concerned," Toomey said.

Tobacco industry documents revealed campaigns to target young adults during transitional life stages, such as moving from high school to college or work. Tobacco companies believe those life stages are a perfect time to develop and cement new behaviors such as smoking. In an attempt to exploit this vulnerability, tobacco companies sponsor promotions in bars and nightclubs in an attempt to make young adults view smoking as social norm. That may move them from experimenting with cigarettes to becoming pack-a-day smokers, the report said.

The American Lung Association urged college and university leaders to join the Smokefree Air 2010 Challenge, a nationwide program seeking to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke in public places and workplaces by 2010 and to reduce smoking-related illnesses.

Colleges and universities can be part of the program by implementing the following policies and initiatives this school year:

  • Prohibit tobacco use at all indoor and outdoor facilities, private offices, residence halls and dormitories.
  • Ban 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 tobacco products, smoking-cessation resources, and campus policies.
  • Promote and fund research to develop and implement smoking and tobacco-use interventions that specifically target college students.
  • Lobby state legislatures for laws to forbid tobacco use on campus.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about smoking and tobacco use.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Lung Association, news release, Sept. 8, 2008

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