America's college students are exposed to secondhand smoke at an alarming rate, according to a new study from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
Researchers asked students at 10 universities in North Carolina about their drinking and smoking habits, their exposure to secondhand smoke, and if they live on or off campus. Of the more than 4,000 students surveyed, 83 percent said they had been exposed to secondhand smoke at least one time during the previous week.
The study also found that more than 60 percent of the exposure happened while the students were at a restaurant or bar.
Students that engaged in binge drinking were likelier than others to report exposure to secondhand smoke. Additional factors that seemed to increase students' exposure to secondhand smoke included living in a dorm that allowed smoking or in off-campus housing, such as fraternity or sorority houses.
Being female, white and attending a public university also increased a student's rate of exposure to secondhand smoke, the study found. “We were really kind of floored to see how many, and how frequently, students are exposed,” said Mark Wolfson, Ph.D., who authored the study and heads of the Section on Society and Health in Wake Forest's Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy.
Decreasing the number of places where smoking is allowed on campus is something that college administrators should seriously be considering, according to Wolfson. The study suggests that more colleges should adopt smoke-free policies and provide students with services to help them quit smoking.
The study, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, appears in the July 2009 issue of the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.