Almost a fifth of college students are regular smokers, according to a new report from the American Lung Association. Yes, that is where I began smoking big time. Of 119 institutions in another study the ALA cites, students at 109 institutions reported seeing promotions at a campus event. “The industry return is staggering,” says Bernadette Toomey, the ALA’s CEO. “Every student in America has a target on their back as far as the tobacco industry is concerned,” she added. A target that is, in terms of adding to the nation’s number of addicted smokers. For teens, the transition from high school to college represents “a prime time for developing and cementing new behaviors like smoking.” The industry, not surprisingly, takes advantage of this period of vulnerability by sponsoring promotions in bars and nightclubs in an effort to move young people from smoking only occasionally to “pack-a-day” smokers, which I was until I finally stopped.
How stem this tide of life-threatening activity that can cause cancer, lung disease and other often fatal illnesses? Toomey emphasizes that colleges and universities have a responsibility “to provide same spaces in which their students can learn and live, an atmosphere, that is, free from the kinds of advertising that encourages young people to use deadly products like tobacco. The ALA urges the higher education community to eliminate exposure to second-had smoke by 2010. The first of the challenge’s initiatives is to prohibit tobacco use in all campus buildings, including residence halls and offices. The second is to stop the sale and advertising of tobacco on campus grounds and in college publications. These are goals well worth pursuing, especially when it is remembered that 90 percent of adult smokers began before age 20.
I see many young and educated looking adults on Manhattan streets puffing away, and wonder at the power of the tobacco industry that can so effectively lead them into illness.
George Anderson, S.J.