Data reports Lehigh students fall below national smoking statistics


In this Dec. 1, 2016, file photo, a sign prompts “Are you happy? Yes or No?” outside of Fairchild-Martindale Library. Statistics from a national survey found Lehigh students smoke less than the average student. (Meg Kelly/B&W Staff)

A sign outside of Fairchild-Martindale Library appeared last semester asking students two questions.

Are you happy? Yes or no?

The question was repeated in different languages and provided ‘yes’ and ‘no’ slots for students to drop their cigarette butts in. By the end of finals period, both sides were littered with cigarette butts. Despite this, Lehigh scores relatively low in terms of student smokers when compared to national statistics.

Jenna Papaz, coordinator of the Health Advancement and Prevention Strategies Office, said Lehigh students’ health and safety are both measured through the university’s participation in the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II survey. The survey, which Lehigh first participated in in 2013, assesses a range of health issues among college students including alcohol, tobacco and other drug usage.

According to the university, the goal of the data collection as stated on Lehigh’s “Surveys and Data Collection” page is “to gain a profile of health habits, behaviors, perceptions and trends among Lehigh students and to benchmark against national data.”

When comparing Lehigh’s statistics to the national data sets, a larger percentage of Lehigh students don’t smoke or have not smoked in the last 30 days. Papaz said according to the spring 2016 survey, 82.4 percent of undergraduate students reported never smoking cigarettes. She said that of those who reported smoking cigarettes, 6.6 percent had smoked at least once in the last 30 days, which is less than the national reference group of 9.8 percent.

Looking at national data sets from spring surveys of the past five years, in 2012, 68.5 percent of 90,666 students from 141 schools across the U.S. said they never smoked and only 4.5 percent said they smoke daily. In 2016, 76.1 percent of 95,761 students from 137 schools said they never smoked and only 2.2 percent said they smoke daily.

Papaz said the nationally-recognized survey is confidential and is sent out to a random selection of undergraduate and graduate students every February.

While fewer schools participated in the research, a higher percentage of students each year said they’ve never smoked and a smaller percentage said they smoke daily.

Thomas Novak, the interim director of Lehigh’s Health and Wellness Center, said the center asks students about their smoking status during sick visits, but other than that the center doesn’t have any comprehensive statistics for smoking on campus.

Rebecca Unterborn, ’17, is the Peer Health Advisers’ programming chair and is responsible for coordinating all of their programs and events on campus. The programs cover six topics that include sexual health awareness, prescription drug abuse, alcohol awareness, how to prevent infections, healthy sleeping habits and stress prevention.

Unterborn said she’s noticed smoking is a problem on campus and that the majority of smoking happens outside of FML. She said the prevalence of smoking is only about 2 percent on campus, but hypothetically that number should be zero. She credits the problem to both social smoking and addiction.

“From my personal experience, I sometimes see people smoking socially at parties and things like that, but I also think  there are a majority of people who smoke because they’re addicted,” Unterborn said.

She said the Peer Health Advisers started hosting a smoking awareness event two years ago. The event, called The Great American Smokeout, is hosted outside of FML during the fall semester and encourages students to exchange their cigarettes for candy.

“Our event was designed as a tabling event to just raise awareness about the effects of smoking and how it’s bad for you,” Unterborn said. “We hope that by raising awareness people understand it a little bit more and will change their habits.”

Papaz said smoking has the potential to have a large impact on the health of the entire Lehigh community, especially because the college years are a time of increased risk for smoking initiation and transition from experimental to regular use. She said strong education, outreach and prevention strategies could have an effect on both smokers and nonsmokers.

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