Background: Cigarette-smoking rates have increased in recent years among college students. Smoke-free residences offer a possible means of reducing or preventing smoking. However, their use has as yet not been evaluated. This paper examines whether students residing in smoke-free residences are less likely to smoke cigarettes than students in other campus residences, and if such lower rates apply to all types of students and colleges.
Methods: The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study surveyed a nationally representative sample of college students at 128 U.S. four-year colleges regarding tobacco use and related behaviors in the spring of 1999. The responses of students living in smoke-free and unrestricted residences at 101 campuses were compared.
Results: Current smoking prevalence was significantly lower among residents of smoke-free housing (21.0%) as compared with residents of unrestricted housing (30.6%, p<.0001). The lower rate of current cigarette use was consistent with all types of student and college characteristics with few exceptions. Current cigarette use was significantly lower for those living in smoke-free housing than for residents of unrestricted housing among students who were not regular smokers before the age of 19 (10% vs. 16.9%, p <.0001), but not among students who smoked regularly before they were 19 years old.
Conclusions: Smoke-free residences may help protect those students who were not regular smokers in high school from smoking in college. However, the difference in smoking rates may be due to self-selection of students into smoke-free residences. Since smoke-free options also protect students from second-hand smoke and dormitory fires, colleges should provide these types of residences for all students who request them, and should also encourage others to choose them.