The Relationship of Field of Study to Current Smoking Status among College Students

By Berg, Carla J.; Klatt, Colleen M. et al. | College Student Journal, September 2009 | Go to article overview

The Relationship of Field of Study to Current Smoking Status among College Students


Berg, Carla J., Klatt, Colleen M., Thomas, Janet L., Ahluwalia, Jasjit S., An, Lawrence C., College Student Journal


Problem: No research to date has examined smoking rates among the different fields of study and smoking among college students. Thus, this study aimed to determine if smoking prevalence vary among students in the different fields of study.

Method: An online health behavior survey was administered to 25,000 students (n=6,492; 26% response rate).

Results: Smoking prevalence ([greater than or equal to] 1 cigarette in past 30 days) among our sample was 28.5%. Field of study was associated with smoking (p<0.001). The highest rates were among those in "Communications, languages, or cultural studies" (37.4%); "Social services and human services" (34.0%); the "Arts, design, or performing arts" (30.8%); and "Business" (30.2%). The lowest rates were among those in "Mathematics, engineering, and sciences" (21.0%). These differences persist after controlling for demographic, psychosocial, and other health behavior variables.

Conclusions: Students within certain fields of study are at high risk for smoking. Research should further validate these findings. Pending further support, additional work should investigate reasons for differential smoking rates and aim to develop cessation programs targeting high-risk students.

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Young adulthood is a critical transition period in cigarette use (Bachman, Wadsworth, O'Malley, Johnston, & Schulenberg, 1997; Chert & Kandel, 1995). While first experimentation with cigarettes occurs early in life for the majority of individuals, increased frequency of smoking and establishment of regular or heavy cigarette use often occurs during the young adult years (Everett, Husten et al., 1999; Everett, Warren et al., 1999). Encouraging smoking cessation early in life is crucial to help individuals avoid many of the harms related to smoking (Doll, Peto, Boreham, & Sutherland, 2004; Orleans, 2007). Effective strategies targeting occasional or intermittent young adult smokers are needed to interrupt the progression to regular smoking behavior and the development of nicotine dependence.

Colleges and universities provide a venue for intervening with young adults that smoke or may initiate smoking. In 2004, U.S. colleges and universities enrolled over 14 million students, including nearly 40% of the U.S. population between the ages of 18 and 24 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). Hammond (Hammond, 2005), analyzing Canadian Census data (with comparable rates of smoking and college enrollment to the U.S.), noted that students represent a larger proportion of young adult smokers than any other occupation or employment sector (e.g., 15 % of young adult smokers worked in the service/sales sector; Hammond, 2005). Given the substantial proportion of young adults that attend college, this is an important target group for smoking cessation interventions.

Recent research has examined groups of young adults at risk for smoking and other deleterious health behaviors (Bader, Travis, & Skinner, 2007; Green et al., 2007; Husten, 2007). In 2005, smoking prevalence (i.e., having smoked at least 100 cigarettes in lifetime and reporting smoking on at least some days) among young adults (aged 18-24) was 24% (CDC, 2006). A recent study by Solberg and colleagues (Solberg et al., Asche, Boyle, McCarty, & Thoele, 2007) investigated the prevalence of current regular smoking and infrequent smoking among young adults with respect to status as a college student and the type of college attended (i.e., two-year vs. four-year). Non-students or those without a college education demonstrated the highest rates of smoking (47.5% current, 2.4% infrequent; Solberg et al., 2007). Those attending technical colleges or two-year institutions also reported higher rates of smoking (30.6% current; 3.0% infrequent) in comparison to those attending four-year schools (16.4% current, 4.3% infrequent) (Solberg et al., 2007). Estimates from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health are higher (NSDUH, 2006), reporting that approximately 25% of college students are current smokers. …

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