Penn students, it turns out, aren't lighting up as much as your average college kid.
Four percent of Penn students smoke tobacco at least 10 times a month, according to last year's Penn Health and Wellness Survey. American Lung Association figures show that the national average is 20 percent, five times the Penn average.
The ALA attributes the low number to taxes and public bans on smoking. But definitive reasons for Penn's low rate aren't clear.
Although the switch to smoke-free dorms in 2004 and the Philadelphia-wide public smoking ban two years later may have discouraged student smokers, the Health and Wellness survey shows the rate has remained around 4 percent even before then.
The administration cites smoke-free dorms and health education as top reasons as to why Penn students don't light up.
"There is overwhelming evidence now that if you create smoke-free environments you affect people's behavior," Penn President Amy Gutmann said.
Wharton sophomore Joshua Powers said, the majority of "people who do not smoke here do it for health reasons."
Education and prior background may play a larger role. According to a Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, schools that have very competitive admissions also have lower proportions of smokers.
Other Ivies report varying rates, with 15.8 percent of Cornell students reporting to have used tobacco within the past 30 days in a 2005 health survey.
The high proportion of city smokers - 28 percent of Philadelphians - may not impact college students significantly because the populations vary considerably and students stay here for a limited amount of time, Susan Villari, director of the Office of Health Education, wrote in an e-mail.
Other universities in the city report smoking rates closer to the national average. At Drexel University, 20 percent of students report smoking regularly, as do 26 percent of Temple University students.
Living in an environment with such a high percentage of smokers may not affect how many students end up smoking, but could have an impact on the type of smokers students become.
Generally students may go out and have a couple cigarettes during midterms and finals, said John Watson, director of Alcohol, Other Drug and Health Education at Drexel. But if they are exposed to smoking on a regular basis, they may be prone to smoking in the long run.
College freshman Jonathan Oxman said that even though he smokes now in response to stress, he did not begin smoking for that reason.
Even though fewer college students smoke compared with past years, colleges still need to address this issue, said Erika Sward, director for national advocacy for the ALA.
The lesson that everyone has learned is that "if you do not remain vigilant, that allows the tobacco companies to find an entrance and worm their way in," she said, adding that universities need to make sure they do not accept tobacco sponsorship and provide resources for tobacco awareness, prevention and cessation programs for students.
A recent report by the ALA found that students at 109 of 119 schools surveyed reported seeing tobacco promotions at on-campus events, as tobacco companies find more discrete ways to target college students, such as by contracting out events to third-party organizations.
Despite national trends, university efforts may not change.
"We don't see students requesting tobacco cessation programs or raising tobacco issues either through Student Health or CAPS as important issues for them to deal with," said Penn's Assistant to the Vice Provost for University Life Max King.
"Alcohol is clearly a stronger focus because we find it affects more students than smoking," he added.Comments powered by Disqus
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