By Lisa Schulz, Contributing Writer
Near the entrance at the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave., several smokers briefly lounge around and finish their cigarettes in anticipation for their next class. Inhaling cigarette smoke while exiting a classroom building or residence hall is a common occurrence for students.
Nineteen Columbia students were surveyed around campus on their smoking habits to further understand the popularity of college smoking. Some students started smoking in high school to relieve stress and fit in with peers and family. But now, most students don’t plan to quit
College students are among the largest groups of cigarette smokers in Illinois, according to a 2008 survey conducted by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The 18- to 24-year-old age group makes up 28 percent of 2 million adult smokers.
“I only smoke cigarettes to be cool,” said Daniel Levy, senior product design major. “And I know why [I can’t quit]: I associate active smoking with fun social situations.”
However, Levy didn’t start smoking because of social pressure. He said he was a freshman and picked up a cigarette to relieve stress associated with an academic project that required him to stay up all night. But now he smokes when he drinks alcohol and during other social events.
Another Columbia student, a 20-year-old junior graphic design major, who wished to remain anonymous, smokes six cigarettes a day and during social situations that involve alcohol.
“On weekends when I’m drinking, it’s uncountable,” she said.
She started smoking in December and said she became addicted after combining the two substances.
Levy wasn’t alone in his justification for smoking. Three other students admitted to smoking because “it was cool.” Others said they were influenced by friends and significant others. Of the 19 students surveyed, 13 said they smoked their first cigarette because of peer pressure.
Some students who were influenced by smokers in their family said they liked the smell of cigarettes, which encouraged them to pick up the habit.
“It’s kind of nostalgic,” said Jeremy Liviu, 20, sophomore film and video major, who has smoked for two years.
Liviu said he liked the smell of tobacco because it reminded him of his grandfather. He noticed a large smoker population at Columbia and began smoking daily because it was socially accepted.
According to Hossein Ardehali, associate professor of medicine, molecular pharmacology and biological chemistry at Northwestern University and spokesman for the American Heart Association, location can also affect a smoker’s habits.
“Secondhand smoking and the stress that comes with living in an urban area can contribute to higher incidents of smoking,” Ardehali said. “[But] that doesn’t exclude suburban or non-urban places where there’s also a high risk of smoking.”
Devin Cain, 20, junior film and video major, said he had been smoking for a couple of weeks to cope with “stress season” in his education, along with family matters and work.
“I like the light-headed feeling I get,” Cain said.
He said smoking cigarettes also helps him cope with his battle against depression. More than half of the surveyed students said they smoke for relaxation.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, approximately 90 percent of all smokers start before age 18, while the average age for a new smoker is 13 years old. Within the Columbia survey, 13 of 19 students, or 68 percent, started smoking under age 18. The average age surveyed students began smoking was at 16 years old.
Students can develop a quick addiction if they pick up smoking after adolescence, according to Ardehali.
“The problem is if you start smoking at an early age, you push back your life expectancy by the number of years you smoke,” he said.
The exact count of years deducted from life expectancy doesn’t directly correlate with each year one has been smoking, Ardehali said.
The exact count of years deducted from life expectancy doesn’t directly correlate with each year one has been smoking, Ardehali said. He said cigarette toxins will have a longer exposure time for a person who starts smoking in his or her youth. Smoking can reduce a smoker’s life expectancy by 13 to 15 years, said
Katie Lorenz, communication manager of the American Lung Association in the Greater Chicago area. Smoking also leads to respiratory illnesses, decreased physical fitness and limits maximum lung function.
“Many smokers, young people especially, have the ‘It can’t happen to me’ mentality,” Lorenz said. “They don’t think they will become addicted and once it happens, it’s too difficult to break the grip of nicotine.”
Nicotine addiction, the mass-advertising of tobacco products and a suppressed appetite also contribute to young people’s attraction to smoking, according to Ardehali.
However, because more than 47 percent of the U.S. is covered by smoke-free environments under state law, a CDC official said some younger people resist cigarettes because it’s not common to see people smoking. Anti-tobacco campaigns and the cigarettes’ prices are also reasons youth avoid smoking.
Virginia Lehmkuhl-Dakhwe, outreach coordinator at Columbia’s Science Institute, said smoke-free areas around college buildings won’t greatly affect a student’s education.
“[Smoking] might be detrimental because the addiction is so strong,” Lehmkuhl-Dakhwe said. “Students will probably fulfill that need first, so they might be late for classes, but I don’t expect it to have a huge impact [on their learning].”
Although smoking habits may be engrained, college smokers owe it to themselves to stop, Lehmkuhl-Dakhwe said.
“I think that probably a lot of people want to quit, particularly these days where it’s not considered as acceptable to smoke,” Lehmkuhl-Dakhwe said. “You’re kind of left with an addiction, and it’s pretty tough to deal with.”
According to Lorenz, it takes the average smoker seven attempts to quit before he or she is successful. Less than half the students surveyed recalled trying to drop the habit, though they know the health hazards.
Liviu said he would quit if it began to interfere with family life or troubled someone close to him, but he said quitting is not in his near future.
“Every time someone asks [why I don’t quit], I come up with a lie,” Liviu said. “It’s a way to socially commit suicide. I just don’t care. And I hate how naive that sounds.”