Colleges students’ attitudes toward smoking

Frank Biasco

The study of college students’ attitudes toward smoking was conducted among the students attending a northwest Florida university. The sample consisted of one-tenth (810) of the student population during the spring term with the subjects being randomly selected after being stratified for gender and race. The instrument consisted of 19 statements dealing with attitudes toward smoking and used a 3-point Likert-type scale with “agree,” “uncertain,” and “disagree” options. The findings are discussed in relation to other research on attitudes toward smoking.


College Students’ Attitudes Toward Smoking

Attitudes are often studied to determine the behaviors of individuals. Biasco (1989, 1991, 1992, 1999, in press) has conducted numerous studies of college students to determine how their attitudes and behavior compare with those of the general public. Because of the high level of interest in smoking and its consequences, the study was conducted to determine college students’ attitudes toward smoking in a conservative, Bible-belt community in northwest Florida, with the increased concern for good health and the increased cost of cancer resulting from smoking, questions have been often raised about the impact of smoking upon the college student population. Of particular interest was whether the smoking attitudes and behaviors of smoking at the University of West Florida differed from other college student populations across the nation.

According to Wechsler, Rigotti, Gledhill-Hoyt, and Lee (1998), cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Arguably, this has resulted in a change in attitudes about smoking. In fact, Blendon (1998) reported that American attitudes have changed remarkably since the mid- 1980s. His research indicated that the majority of Americans now favor increased regulation and taxation on tobacco products. These attitudes propelled the 106th United States Congress to introduce 50 bills concerning the topic of smoking (Thomas Legislative Information on the Internet, 2000). In fact, in Florida, there is an effort underway through a public initiative to place on the ballot a proposed amendment to prohibit smoking in all public places including restaurants (Norman, 2001).

In a study by Hines, Fretz, and Nollen (1998), both smokers and non-smokers believed that smoking was detrimental to good health. Yet, the research by DeBernardo, Aldinger, Dawood, Hanson, Lee, and Rinaldi (1999) indicated that although 98% of college students were aware of the consequences of smoking, only 39% of smokers desired to quit smoking while 11% of non-smokers wanted to start smoking. Also, Wechsler et al. (1998) reported cigarette smoking by college students rose 28% from 1993 to 1997. They also discovered over one quarter of students began smoking after beginning college. In addition, 85% (95 of 116) of the colleges used in the sample reported an increase in smoking. These data supported a study by Sax (1997) that found that the annual survey of college freshmen, which have been administered for thirty consecutive years at colleges and universities nationwide, reported an increase in cigarette smoking. Research by Wechsler et al. (1998) discovered the increase in college smoking began with a rise in high school smoking in the early 1990s.

Moskal (1999) examined other factors that may contribute to college students’ attitudes toward smoking. His research, which was conducted in the Florida university system, found that married student’s smoke more and are less apt to try to quit smoking than unmarried students. Furthermore, he found that more white students than minority students were likely to try smoking. In other research, conducted by Jones, Hard, and Levinson (1992), higher levels of smoking were seen in students with high stress levels and in students who reside outside of residence halls.

The perceptions toward smoking students have provided insight into the relationship between smoking attitudes and smoking behaviors. Hines et al. (1998) discovered that students who smoked only occasionally reported that “smoking made them feel more daring and more adventurous” and did not report feeling socially persecuted.

Research by Hines et al. (1998) found that non-smoking students associated smoking with being less attractive, less feminine or masculine, and less refined. Also, both smokers and non-smokers preferred dating non-smokers to smokers and found non-smokers more attractive than smokers.

Although previous research indicates college students are aware of some of the consequences of smoking, Giacopassi and Vandiver (1999) found that some students seriously underestimate the rates of death associated with tobacco use. However, Hines (1996) found that non-smoking college students believed that second hand smoke could result in serious diseases.



The instrument consisted of one page with 14 demographic items on one side and 19 statements on the other side–all dealing with smoking. The statements were rated using a three point, Likert-type scale with the options “agree,” “uncertain,” or “disagree.”


The subjects were approached on a face-to-face basis and invited to participate in the survey. To provide confidentiality, the subjects placed the finished form into a large brown, unmarked envelope.

Sample Population:

Approximately ten percent (810) of students were randomly selected after being stratified by gender and race from those attending the University of West Florida. The sample was stratified on gender and race and reflected the population of the University of West Florida with 40% male and 60% female. The racial distribution of the sample was 78% white, 10% black, 4% Hispanic, 5% Asian with 3% “other.”

The largest percentage (43%) of the subjects were aged 19-21 with 22% being aged 22-25 and 19% being 26-40. Eight percent were 18 and below while 7% were 41 or above in age. Student classification showed that the majority junior/senior consisted of 58% of the sample with freshman/sophomore consisting of 33%. The rest were graduate students (7%) and special students (non-degree seeking students) 2%. Of the students participating in the research, 75% were full time undergraduate students with 16% being part-time students. Four percent were fulltime graduate students with 3% being part-time students.

Seventy percent were single and 21% separated, 6% divorced and 1% widowed. Seventy-five percent had no children, 13% had one child, 13% had two children, and 3% had three children with 1% having four or more children. Twenty-seven percent of the students lived alone while 22% lived with parents, 3% lived in a fraternity, 3% lived in a sorority, and 45% were living with others.

Twenty-seven percent were employed full-time, 46% part time and 27% were not employed at all. The largest percentage (30%) was earning $10,000 or less annually while 12% was earning $60,000 or more. In between, 21% were earning $10,001 to $20,000, 24% earned $20,000 to $40,000 and 14% earned $40,001 to $60,000.

Both Protestants and Catholics were represented in the sample by 25% each with 2% of the Jewish faith and 17% having no religious affiliation. Thirty-two percent indicated having some other faith but did not indicate the type. As to political registration, 36% were Republican, 30% Democrat and 12% Independent, while 18% were not registered; 3% were registered in other minority parties.

As to who smoked or not smoked, 33% reported that they smoked while 67% said they never smoked. Two percent said they smoked indoors, 15% smoked outdoors while 13% smoked both indoors and outdoors.


The study attempted to determine the college students’ attitudes toward smoking at the University of West Florida in relation to the findings at other universities. For instance, some people believe that whether one smokes or not affects whether the person is liked. Nonetheless, to the statement, “no one likes a smoker,” 67 % disagreed. Only 17% agreed and 16% were uncertain. Similarly, when asked whether “smoking is unattractive,” 69% agreed while 21% disagreed and 10% were uncertain. As to how people feel about smokers, to the statement, “I would not date or marry a smoker,” 41% agreed although 39% disagreed and 20% were uncertain. Some people are concerned about the personal and social effects of smoking. To the statement, “smoking is socially acceptable”, 44% agreed while 35% disagreed; 21% were undecided. Some people are concerned with the implications of smoking. For example, to the statement, “people think less of you if you smoke,” 43% disagreed; only 30% agreed and 27% were undecided.

Concerning health related issues, participants responded to the statement, “it is unwise to smoke in an enclosed area,” with 81% agreeing and 10% disagreeing with 9% uncertain. Furthermore, whether “people should be advised about the harmful effects of smoking”, 93% agreed. The rest (3%) disagreed or were undecided (4%). In addition, to the statement that “no one should smoke near a pregnant woman,” 90% agreed. The rest were either uncertain (6%) or disagreed (4%). Whether smoking has any positive values, on the statement “smoking is helpful in reducing weight,” only 24% agreed with 40% disagreeing; 36% were undecided. To the statement that “no one should smoke near children,” a large majority (88%) agreed with the rest (4%) disagreeing or undecided (7%). Whether “second hand smoke can cause serious health problems,” 81% agreed with only 4% disagreeing; but 15% were still undecided. Because of the impact of smoking upon one’s health, the subjects were asked to respond to the statement that “smoking is hazardous to one’s health” with 94% agreeing and the rest (3%) disagreeing or undecided (3%).

Regarding legal issues, many people believe that “there should be stricter laws against smoking” with 44% agreeing; 34% disagreed and 22% were undecided. To the statement that “the law should prohibit smoking in public places”, 48% agreed although 35% disagreed; 17% were undecided. On the statement that “no one should smoke near someone who is eating,” 69% agreed. 19% disagreed and 12% were undecided. Whether “people should tell a smoker to stop smoking”, 51% disagreed; only 30% agreed while 19% were undecided.

Finally, in questions concerning the modeling effects of smoking, to the statement, “Smoking advertisements influence non-smokers to begin,” only 32% agreed while 46% disagreed with 22% uncertain. However, some people were concerned about the influence that smoking has on children. To the statement, “children who see people smoke will more likely smoke,” 51% agreed; 28% disagreed and 21% were uncertain. And whether “smokers have little power,” 54% disagreed and 26% agreed (21% were uncertain).


Generally, college students view smoking as a bad habit but want the right to smoke as evidenced by their varied responses to the survey questions pertaining to stricter laws. For instance, even though 94% agreed “smoking is hazardous to one’s health,” the students were divided on whether tougher laws against smoking should be instituted. However, the majority of college students believe others should not be injured by their smoking; for example, by smoking in an enclosed area. In addition, students said that people should be advised about the harmful effects of smoking and prohibited from smoking near pregnant women or near children. They also believed that second-hand smoke could cause health problems.

Students responded similarly to prior research reported by Hines et al. (1998) concerning attractiveness. For instance, Hines et al. reported students that smoked were rated as less attractive. Research at the University of West Florida found that although students disagreed with strong statements, such as “no one likes a smoker,” they often agreed that smoking is unattractive and preferred a non-smoker in a spouse or steady partner.

In short, it was clear to most college students in the study that smoking is harmful and that others should not be endangered by one’s smoking. But cherishing freedom over laws, they do not want any more restrictions controlling smokers. Perhaps as students, they prefer the education route; and beyond this, “let the smoker beware.”

It is obvious, that studies must be continued on the attitudes of college students toward smoking–at the University of West Florida and other colleges and universities throughout the nation.

Table I

Smoking Items on Questionnaire and Percent Responses:

Subject Item Agree Undecided Disagree

1) No one likes

a smoker. 17 67 16

2) Smoking is

unattractive. 69 21 10

3) It is unwise to smoke

in an enclosed area. 81 10 9

4) Smokers have little

will power. 25 54 21

5) Children who see people

smoke will more likely smoke. 51 28 21

6) 1 would not date or

marry a smoker. 41 39 20

7) People should be advised

about the harmful

effects of smoking. 93 3 4

8) Smoking is socially

acceptable. 44 35 21

9) No one should smoke near

a pregnant woman. 90 4 6

10) There should be stricter

enforcement of laws against

smoking. 44 34 22

11) People think less of

you if you smoke. 30 43 27

12) Smoking is helpful

in reducing weight. 24 40 36

13) No one should

smoke near children. 88 4 8

14) Smoking is hazardous

to one’s health. 94 3 3

15) The law should prohibit

smoking in all public places. 48 35 17

16) No one should smoke

near someone who is eating. 69 19 12

17) Smoking advertisements

influence non-smokers to begin. 32 46 22

18) Second-hand smoke can

cause serious health problems. 81 4 15

19) People should tell smokers

to stop smoking. 30 51 19


Biasco, F., Goodwin, E. A., & Vitale, K. L. (in press). College students’ attitudes towards discrimination. College Student Journal.,

Biasco, F., & Nunn, K. (1999). College students’ attitudes towards UFO’s. College Student Journal, 34(1), 96-99.

Biasco, F., & Piotrowski, C. (1989). College students’ attitudes toward abortion. College Student Journal, 23(3), 194-197.

Biasco, F., & Taylor R. (1991). College students’ attitudes toward AIDS. College Student Journal, 25(3), 398-401.

Biasco, F., & Taylor R. (1992). Colleges students’ attitudes toward drinking and driving. College Student Journal, 26 (2), 265-267.

Blendon, R.J. (1998). The public and the comprehensive tobacco bill. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 280(14), 1279-1284.

DeBernardo, R.L., & Aldinger, C.E., & Dawood, O.R., & Hanson, R.E., & Lee, S.J., & Rinaldi, S.R. (1999). An E-mail assessment of undergraduates’ attitudes toward smoking. Journal of American College Health, 48(2), 61-66.

Georgiou, C.C., & Betts, N.M., & Hoerr, S.L., & Keim, K., & Peters, P.K., & Stewart, B., & Voichick, J. (1997). Among young adults, college students and graduates practiced habits that are more healthful and made more healthful food choices than did non-students. J Am Diet Assoc, 97(7), 754-759.

Giacopassi, D. & Vandiver, M. (1999). University students’ perceptions of tobacco, cocaine, and homicide fatalities. American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse, 25 (1), 163-172

Hines, D. (1996). Nonsmoking college students’ attitudes toward smokers and smoking, psychological Reports, 78(3), 860-862.

Hines, D. & Fretz, A., & Nollen, N. (1998) Regular occasional smoking by college students: Personality attributions of smokers and nonsmokers. Psychological Reports, 83(3), 1299-1306.

Jones, B. & Carroll, M. (1998). The effect of a video character’s smoking status on young females’ perceptions of social characteristics. Adolescence Fal, 33(131), 657-667.

Jones, D.H., & Harel, Y., & Levinson, R.M. (1992). Living arrangements, knowledge of health risks, and stress as determinants of health-risk behavior among college students. Journal of American College Health, 41(2), 43 -48.

Moskal, P.D. (1999). Examining the use of tobacco on college campuses. Journal of American College Health, 47(6), 260.

Norman, B. (2001, October 28). Smoking diners dwindle; workplace ban on horizon. Pensacola News Journal, p. IA.

Sax, L.J. (1997). Health trends among college freshmen. Journal of American College Health, 45(6), 252-262.

United States Congress. Thomas: Legislative Information on the Internet. http://thomas.loc. gov.

Wechsler, H. & Rigotti, N.A. & Gledhill-Hoyt, J. & Lee, H. (1998). Increased levels of cigarette use among college students. Journal of American Medical Association, 280(19), 1673-1678.



University of West Florida

COPYRIGHT 2002 Project Innovation (Alabama)

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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