Study shows smoking among U students is on the decline

University student smoking rates have fallen in the past three years, but the drop has not slowed efforts by University researchers and public health advocates to curb smoking rates further.

Boynton Health Service researchers surveyed students last spring and found that 29 percent of undergraduates ages 18 to 24 said they used tobacco products in the past 30 days. An identical poll in 2000 found 35 percent of students admitted to using tobacco.

The findings are consistent with nationwide trends, said Nadya Sabuwala, a clinical health promotion coordinator at Boynton.

Although tobacco-use rates have declined, they are still higher for people ages 18 to 24 than for any other age group.

Researchers at the University are trying to find ways to help smokers quit.

University psychiatry professor Dorothy Hatsukami is collaborating on nicotine research with Dr. Paul Pentel, director of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology at Hennepin County Medical Center.

They are working on a human clinical trial for a nicotine vaccine that, if successful, could be six years from approval.

Pentel said the vaccine would not be a cure-all for smoking addiction, but it would aid smokers in quitting. If the vaccine proves effective, it would suppress rewarding effects of smoking. Medications available now such as nicotine gum only reduce cravings.

Tony Zampogna, a Web developer at the University’s Academic and Distributed Computing Services, smoked one to three cigarettes each day for the past two years and decided to quit in June.

“The hardest part is when I’m having a drink at the bar,” said Zampogna, a continuing education senior.

Students can avoid the temptation of smoking in a bar with “Smoke Free Saturdays” organized by the Pulse weekly newspaper.

For the past three years, Ed Felien, Pulse publisher and editor, has put on smoke-free shows in Twin Cities bars.

“The tobacco industry knows college students begin smoking by going out to the bars to see music,” Felien said. “We refuse to get on the bandwagon with the alternative press tied in too tightly with tobacco.”

About a year ago, grant money from the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco that had been awarded to epidemiology professor Deborah Hennrikus provided the funding for the Pulse staff to organize and advertise the events.

The smoke-free music events break the link between smoking and social situations, Hennrikus said. This is also a way to counter the tobacco company’s promotional events such as Marlboro nights, she said.

Research assistant Kate Breiter and 10 other workers have collected data through brief surveys and interviews of the attendees at smoke-free and smoking events.

Breiter, a second-year student in the master’s of public health program, said the overall reaction has been positive even though the fact the events are smoke-free is not the reason most people choose to attend.

Hennrikus will find out if the crowd changed or attendance dropped at the smoke-free events. The surveys also asked what type of events people would prefer.

“We’re hoping this will give venue owners evidence to make a decision about having more smokefree nights,” Hennrikus said.

Grant money for the events will end in January. Currently, Felien does not know how the smoke-free nights will continue without the grant.