Study finds high secondhand smoke exposure on campus in North Carolina


A study on secondhand smoke conducted at 10 North Carolina universities found that 83 percent of students had been exposed at least once a week.

The study, released today by researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, is the first to provide evidence of the high rates of secondhand smoke exposure among U.S. college students, the school said.

“We were really shocked to see that 83 percent of students reported at least some exposure during the previous week,” said Mark Wolfson, the lead author on the study and the section head for the Section on Society and Health in the Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy. “That said, we don’t know if the exposure was at a nuisance level or at a level that might influence health.

“Either way, knowing what we know about secondhand smoke, lowering the rates of smoking is definitely something we should be seriously looking at on college campuses,” Wolfson said.

The study found that 55 percent of the exposure came in the students’ residence or being in the same room with a smoker.

Most secondhand smoke exposures, 65 percent, happened at a restaurant or bar, while 38 percent occurred in a car.

The researchers surveyed 4,223 undergraduate college students at eight public and two private universities in the fall of 2006. The students were asked about their drinking and smoking habits, demographics, where they lived and secondhand smoke exposure.

According to a report on the American Lung Association’s Web site, secondhand smoke exposure causes disease and premature death in children and adults who do not smoke. Secondhand smoke causes almost 50,000 deaths in adult nonsmokers in the United States each year, including about 3,400 from lung cancer.

Researchers said factors that appeared to be associated with increased exposure to secondhand smoke included: living in residence locations where smoking is allowed or locations associated with smoking, such as Greek houses and off-campus housing; being female; being white; having parents with higher education levels; and attending a public vs. private school.

Although college administrators may be limited in their ability to affect exposure in some locations, “they have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment for students,” researchers said in a press release.

“They should consider looking at ways to take steps to reduce smoking and concomittant exposure to secondhand smoke among their students. Such steps include enacting smoke-free campus policies and offering smoking cessation services,” the researchers said.

Wolfson said campuses differ.

“While some college campuses are smoke free, others have virtually no restrictions on smoking, not even in the residence halls,” Wolfson said. “There is a growing national movement to move away from that, but it still very much varies by campus.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It will appear in the July 23 issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research, a publication of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco.


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