Boyton study reveals lower number of smokers at U

The survey reported that 43 percent of students engage in binge drinking.

Smoking among University students is declining, according to a Boynton Health Service study of 12 Minnesota colleges and universities released Thursday.

That same report, announced as part of the College Health Summit held Thursday at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs building, also revealed that high-risk alcohol use continues to be an issue regardless of age or college.

“This shows that a comprehensive, consistent and sustained effort in the areas of tobacco use prevention, cessation and policy can make a difference among college students,” said Edward Ehlinger, Boynton director and chief author of the study.

The majority of the report’s findings were compiled from surveys given in the spring at two-year public, four-year public and four-year private schools.

Besides illustrating college-student smoking rates that have consistently dropped for 10 years, the study also found older students tended to have higher tobacco-use rates than younger ones, and that a high percentage of respondents who had used tobacco in the last 30 days did not consider themselves smokers.

Dave Golden, Boynton public health and marketing director, said tackling smoking has proved easier than alcohol abuse because people are less likely to tolerate it.

“Tobacco use is moving in the right direction,” Golden said.

Among University students aged 18-24, the study reported that tobacco usage had dropped in 2006 to around 24 percent from a high in 1998 of around 41 percent.

Though tobacco usage among students appears to be dwindling, exposure to second-hand smoke by smokers and nonsmokers alike is still too high, Ehlinger cautioned.

The study revealed that 51 percent of University nonsmokers reported exposure to secondhand smoke on any given weekend – a slight decrease from 2004.

Ehlinger said many different factors contributed to the lower numbers, including restaurant smoking bans and negative public attitudes toward smoking.

In contrast to tobacco, alcohol use among Minnesota college students continues to be an issue, the study concluded.

Health and wellness senior Devi Chettiar said even though alcohol abuse among her peers has lessened as they have gotten older, alcohol abuse remains a major issue with the University community as a whole.

“There are so many injuries, acts of violence and sexual assaults because of alcohol abuse,” said Chettiar, a former member of the Student Network for Abuse Prevention. “Even if the majority of students aren’t abusing alcohol, there is still a huge number of problems with those that do choose to abuse it.”

According to the study, the number of University students between 18-24 who reported binge drinking in the past two weeks remains high.

The report stated that 43 percent of those surveyed said they had engaged in binge drinking.

Ehlinger said current approaches to alcohol-abuse prevention are not “optimally successful.”

“Focusing on reducing binge drinking itself is too complex of an issue,” he said.

Instead, Ehlinger said, Boynton plans to address short-term outcomes of binge drinking, such as encouraging students to dial 911 immediately when a peer passes out.