As a teenager in Buffalo, New York, Ryan Mroz picked up smoking through “monkey-see, monkey-do” behavior with his friends. Now 35, he’s been trying to quit since then, and even stayed tobacco-free for three months, until he enrolled in the class Managing Human Capital Risk.
“As soon as I got out of the first midterm in a risk management class that they refer to as ‘boot camp,’ just the stress level of being in school is what drove me back [to smoking],” said Mroz, a senior finance and risk management and insurance major.
This month, the College of Public Health announced the formation of the Smoke-Free Campus Task Force to develop and implement a university smoke-free or tobacco-free policy. On Sunday, the group concluded a survey of students on their attitudes about on-campus smoking.
Some students who smoke on Main Campus have adopted the habit to grapple with the stresses of attending school. For others, smoking is a part of their social life.
“There is obviously the social culture of it, ‘Oh, I have a cigarette when I’m hanging out with friends or when I go to the bar and have a drink,’” Mroz said. “But I feel the bigger part of it on the college campus is [that] it’s an unhealthy coping mechanism that students are using to deal with the stress.”
Among all adults in the United States, smoking rates have significantly declined over the past decade. According to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the amount of U.S. adults who smoke cigarettes declined from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 15.1 percent in 2015.
But despite this overall decline, rates of smoking at colleges often remain higher than the national trend, said Anne Frankel, a social and behavioral sciences professor.
Frankel said the rate of smoking on college campuses is generally higher than the overall population’s. She added that upwards of 30 percent of students report smoking on college campuses.
She said these statistics become complicated when factoring in the social element of smoking on college campuses.
“Whereas for the definition of smokers nationwide may be they’re going to smoke every day, I imagine that on college campuses there are a lot more people reporting on social smoking…maybe a couple times a week if they are drinking,” Frankel said.
When senior marketing major Kyle Stevens attends parties, he occasionally smokes to “just get a buzz” even though the extent of on-campus smoking culture actually bothers him, he said.
“I hate it, I actually hate smoking,” Stevens said. “Especially when there’s like groups of people, you know going to classes and everything and people are smoking, it’s so annoying to me.”
Freshman geology major Joe Choi began smoking in high school after accepting a cigarette from a friend.
“I didn’t become a daily smoker or anything, but I usually smoke when I’m around some friends in college,” Choi said. “To me, I just feel relaxed when I smoke.”
Frankel said one of the Smoke-Free Campus Task Force’s objectives is to eliminate the social expectation of smoking.
But for many students, Mroz said, smoking is an inevitable response to the various college-specific stresses they experience.
“I think it’s a combination of factors,” Mroz said. “Most of it [is] academic rigor, but then you also add on top of that if you have any type of home-life stress, dating stress, stress with managing your tuition costs and what your student loans are costing you. … There’s a whole variety of stresses that an 18 year old may be first subject to when they come to college.”
To combat the issue at Temple, Mroz said he thinks the university should explicitly reach out to students to promote alternative ways of coping with stress. Student Health Services currently offers smoking cessation counseling.
Mark Denys, senior administrator at SHS, said students can schedule 30-minute sessions with a doctor to go over smoking risk factors and free resources available for smoking cessation. The doctors also go over prescription drugs that help people quit smoking, like Chantix and Zyban, which are sometimes covered by insurance.
Denys said these counseling sessions aren’t very popular, but he hopes the formation of the task force will cause interest to increase.
“College students are young enough that most likely if they are currently smoking while in college, they haven’t been smoking very long,” Mroz said. “So those programs might be able to keep some students from ever starting and also [be] able to help younger people kick the habit before it becomes a lifelong habit.”
Ian Walker and Emily Scott contributed reporting.