Sunday, February 28, 2010

Don’t join a Frat – You could Die!

Your average binge-drinking frat guy may be too busy funneling beer to chain smoke. A nonsmoker student riding in a car with a “heavy smoker” may be at greater health risk than a “puffer” who smokes once every few days.

A study done at Wake Forest in December separated a previously homogenous group of college smokers into five subgroups, and the study’s results can be used to see which and when college students are at greatest health risk.

Previously, whether a college student smoked one or 300 cigarettes in the past 30 days, he or she was labeled a college smoker. However, recent nicotine and tobacco research done by Mark Wolfson at Wake Forest has removed this façade of homogeneity.

A survey done of 1,102 past-month smokers from 10 North Carolina colleges identified five heterogeneous groups of college smokers. Participants completed a Life-Cycle Assessment developed by the EPA and were divided into homogenous groups with similar smoking patterns including: “smoking behavior, including quantity and frequency of smoking, smoking contexts, and weekly patterns of smoking.”

The subclasses included "heavy smokers", “moderate smokers”, “social smokers”, “puffers”, and “no-context smokers.”

Because of the lack of homogeneity in previous college smoking studies, which used the previous definition of “college smokers”, new insight is found on what and when groups of college students are at the greatest health risk.

“Puffers” made up 26% of the North Carolina college smokers sample. Underclassmen were more likely to be “puffers” than were upperclassmen. This study reflects the addictive nature of cigarettes, “puffers” turning into “moderate smokers” and “heavy smokers” as time passes. This study shows that as students progress through college, the amount they smoke also increases.

Surprisingly, Greek members are more likely to be “puffers” and “social smokers” (19% of NC college smokers sample) than “moderate smokers” (22%) or “heavy smokers” (28%).

Further, “puffers” and “social smokers”, which were more likely to be involved in Greek organizations than any other subclass, are also more likely to be current drinkers or binge drinkers than were “heavy smokers”.

The study surprisingly found evidence against the cliché of Greek members binging on every drug available. Although Greek members are smoking less than the average college student, they are binge drinking far more.

Wolfson’s study only covered smokers, just half of the concern of state officials. Universities across the state have been trying to eliminate sources of second-hand smoke for years.

For example, the University of North Carolina incorporated a campus-wide smoking ban. At North Carolina State University, students were banned from smoking too close to campus buildings. To determine the primary sources of secondhand smoke, Wolfson conducted further research.

Wolfson surveyed 4,223 students (smokers and non-smokers) at 10 universities in North Carolina about their exposure to secondhand smoke. Eighty-three percent of students reported exposure in the seven days prior to the survey. With studies showing links between secondhand smoke and morbidity from heart disease, lung cancer, etc., discovering where students are being exposed provided insight on how to cut down on secondhand smoke health risks.

Sixty-five percent of college students surveyed were exposed to second-hand smoke in bars and restaurants. This puts upperclassmen at greatest risk, who are able to enter the 21-and-up bars as well as have enough money for $7 cocktails. However, North Carolina’s recent smoking ban in restaurants and bars will eliminate this source of exposure unless a person is unlucky enough to walk through the cloud of smoke effacing the entrance.

Fifty-five percent of students were exposed to secondhand smoke from being in the same room as a smoker at college students’ homes. Only 38% were exposed to secondhand smoke from being in the car with a smoker.

Although Greek members are not the heaviest smokers, the vast amounts of people at Greek events, and results showing an increase of smoking amount while binge drinking, caused an increased risk of secondhand-smoke exposure.

Wolfson’s studies split a previously homogenous group into five smaller homogenous groups to better determine when college students are at greatest risk, as well as which students are at greatest risk of secondhand-smoke exposure.

For the anti-Greek like me, we finally have a study showing that you should not join a fraternity or sorority if you do not wish to increase your risk of become a binge drinker, become a casual smoker, or increase exposure to cancer-causing secondhand-smoke at every oh-so-fun Greek event.


  1. Something that I've noticed from my own experience is that personal smoking habit is related to a choice of major. Every time I walk near Nelson Hall, home of Business Majors, I see about one or two smoking people. But as soon as I get to Riddick Hall, Engineering Labs, the number of smoking people gets to 10-15. Same is true for Tompkins Hall, where we have our class. Every Tuesday and Thursday on my way to class, a hippie looking person will blow a white cloud of smoke into my face.
    Somebody needs to research that too.

  2. Interesting statistics-though I think it's not a good enough reason not to join a frat...there are better ones =) Any kind of group inherently has its common social norms, which in this case is partying. Not a big surprise. The results of the study match up with what I had in my head, even regarding the smoking part. It's funny to me that greek members in my experience have never been that big into smoking...and I've partied at almost every house here on campus at least once. I've noticed that smoking is increased in general around greek areas but it's not nearly as much so as other, less popular but more common areas found around campus. Frats just get more attention but account for significantly less than the majority of students on a campus (except for special cases of private schools like Sewannee in TN, where almost every student joins a frat. There I think frat has a different meaning though).

    BUT, Maksym brings up an interesting point. I have as well noticed the increase in smoking around engineering departments as opposed to business areas. And I'm sensitive to this considering I am an unholy smoker who constantly keeps an eye out for others just in case I forgot my lighter. I do believe, however, that smoking correlates to stress levels. People who continue to smoke after they start (casual/social smoking) either are pressured socially, or just make compromises in their head that they deserve an extra cigarette or break. Doesn't make it any less unhealthy though. Whew...I need a cig.

  3. Maybe smoking brings some people, like engineers and CHASS majors, inspiration? Well, drinking probably does that too. Anyways, I like how you lead with a couple of the results. It made me curious about the facts behind such conclusions and how the researchers arrived at them.

  4. Inspiration. Well, smoking definitely helps bring your thoughts together...helps you retain what ever event just happened. I did program a password cracker whilst hammered once because I forgot my old AIM crashed my computer. Inspiration - yes. Practicality - little. Would I do it again? - Probably.

  5. I think you should put your last graph right before your first sentence. Front-load that thang.

    And the number chunk in the a number chunk.

    I have a hypothesis about frats and weight gain, too... I wonder...

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