Study finds students drink more and smoke less in college


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Photo by Edwin Gano |

College students are more likely to drink than their working peers, while those not in college are more likely to smoke than current students, according to a study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


A new study reports that today’s college students are backing away from using tobacco and drinking has become much more popular, while the opposite is true for non-college students.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration focused on the difference between college students and non-college students and their likelihood to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

The study reports that the likelihood college students will drink alcohol is 59.8 percent, while non-college students have a likelihood of 51.5 percent.

Non-college students are more likely to smoke cigarettes at a likelihood of 32.6 percent, compared to college students having a likelihood of 17.9 percent.

Michael Steinberg, director of the Rutgers Tobacco Dependence Program, said this is probably true at Rutgers for many reasons.

“College campuses are a place where young adults are on their own for the first time, away from home, many of whom have never been exposed to alcohol,” he said. “This environment is one where alcohol is easily available, and students are often swept up in the experience.”

He said this time for experimentation and an environment with alcohol usage along with peer pressure makes it difficult to avoid it.

Helene White, distinguished professor in the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, agrees college students are more likely to drink than smoke because the awareness of the consequences are less pervasive.

“College students see less harm in drinking than smoking cigarettes … The most common motivation for drinking is for social reasons. Thus, many students drink to be sociable and to party," she said.

She said peer pressure can play a major role in influencing drinking among students.

Although college students are more likely to drink than non-college students, White said binge drinking, or having five or more drinks on the same occasion, has dropped over the last decade.

“Binge drinking around college students is around 35 percent,” she said. “Therefore, it is probable that some of our current alcohol prevention programs are having an effect.”

Nevertheless, more effort is needed to reduce binge drinking, she said, especially because studies indicate that many college student binge drinkers consume at twice the binge drinking level — more than 10 beverages per occasion.

“Personal feedback interventions that compare students’ drinking with that of their peers are often effective in reducing heavy drinking about students,” White said.

Steinberg said he also was not surprised that smoking rates are low in college students, especially since smoking has been declining in young adults for many years.

“Cigarettes are becoming less fashionable. The health risks are now well-established,” he said. “The cost of cigarettes continues to increase.”

He said one of the problems for young adults who smoke is that they do not expect to be life-long smokers.

No one thinks they will become addicted, but nicotine is the most addictive substance in our society, with 1 out of every 3 people who try cigarettes become addicted, he said. This is at a higher rate than alcohol, cocaine or heroin.

But the survey focuses solely on cigarette smoking. Steinberg said cigarette use is declining, but use of other tobacco products may be increasing, such as cigars, hookah and e-cigarettes.

“New surveys need to make sure we closely monitor the use of these products, especially among young adults,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg said he hopes Rutgers will join other Big Ten universities in implementing a campus-wide tobacco policy and not allowing cigarettes to be sold in University stores.

“This could protect the health of innocent students and send a message that the University cares about the health of its students and employees,” Steinberg said. “It might not be perfect, but it will make a difference.”


Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a School of Communication and Information senior majoring in journalism and media studies and Italian. She is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. You can find her on Twitter @snietomunoz for more.


Sophie Nieto-Munoz

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