Campus-wide smoking bans appear to help university students cut back on their nicotine habit, new research suggests.
The finding stems from a comparative analysis of smoking patterns on two campuses: one with a ban and one without.
"Although we haven't pinpointed which element of the campus-wide smoke-free air policy contributed the most to the positive changes in students' smoking rates, having such a policy in place does appear to influence students' smoking-related norms and behaviors even without strong enforcement of the policy," study co-author Dong-Chul Seo, associate professor at Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, said in a university news release.
"These results are encouraging for university administrators considering stronger tobacco control policies," he added.
Seo and his colleagues released their findings online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.
About one-fifth of American college students smoke, the authors noted in the news release.
To explore how smoking bans might affect that stat, between 2007 and 2009 the team focused on the experience of their own university's Bloomington campus, as well as that of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
The two campuses have a lot in common in terms of the demographics of their student bodies and in light of the fact that both are in cities that have implemented smoke-free air policies.
Even though Indiana University's smoking ban was not particularly well-enforced, the investigators found a marked drop-off in smoking among the students in Bloomington.
For example, during the two-year study period, smoking dropped by nearly 4 percent on the Indiana University campus, down to just below 13 percent of the student body. By contrast, Purdue's smoking rate increased somewhat to edge above 10 percent.
What's more, Indiana University students who continued to smoke went on to smoke fewer cigarettes per day over the course of the study, while per-day cigarette totals went up at Purdue, the investigators found.
Perceptions also shifted. During the two-year period, Indiana University students came to believe that fewer of their peers were still smoking (dropping from the pre-study estimate that about one-quarter of their fellow students smoked). This compared with a perceived uptick of nearly 8 percent among Purdue University students.
The ban also appeared to affect the way students viewed smoking rights. Indiana University students came to increasingly step back from the notion that smoking among their peers was acceptable and a right. At Purdue the notion that students should be allowed to smoke went up 7 percent.
And while support for campus-wide smoking bans and public area smoking regulations went up among Indiana University students, it decreased among their Purdue peers.
Seo suggested that even with a weakly enforced ban, the fact of its existence may have contributed to the observed changes.
"The positive changes may be attributable to increased awareness of the policy due to signage, media coverage and a campus bus completely wrapped with anti-tobacco messaging," he suggested.
For more on smoking and youth, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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