CHICAGO — A new survey has found that tobacco use by college students is not limited to cigarettes and that more young people are smoking cigars, previously a habit associated mostly with older men.
"College students are essentially playing with fire," said Dr. Nancy Rigotti, lead author of the survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The survey of 14,138 students nationwide was part of the 1999 Harvard College Alcohol Survey — and a follow-up to similar surveys in 1993 and 1997.
Overall, the 1999 survey found that nearly 46 percent of students had tried cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products in the previous year. A third said they had used tobacco products in the last 30 days.
When comparing the 1997 and 1999 results, researchers found that about the same percentage of students — 28 percent — said they had smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days.
Nine percent of the respondents, including some who smoked cigarettes, said they had smoked a cigar in the same time period; 4 percent had chewed tobacco; and 1 percent smoked a pipe.
Rigotti, who presented her survey at the 11th World Conference on Tobacco in Chicago, said this is the first time students were asked about tobacco items other than cigarettes.
She said some of the students first tried cigarettes in middle or high school and "have taken their smoking habits with them" to college.
But she believes others who would not normally smoke are trying cigars because students associate them with being "young, hip, successful and sexy."
Starting in the mid-1980s, cigarmakers engineered an aggressive marketing campaign, with the advertising not required to mention potential health risks of the product, such as cancers of the lung and upper digestive tract, the report's author, Frank Baker of the American Cancer Society, wrote.
A large cigar emits more of the harmful elements in ambient smoke than a cigarette, which suggested the need for cigar smoking bans in restaurants and other public places, he wrote.
Nicotine in cigars can be just as addicting as cigarettes, he said.
The rise in cigar smoking as well as smokeless tobacco and pipe smoking was evident among college students, Rigotti's report said, and was the reason that men were more likely to be tobacco users than women. Fifty-three percent of the men said they used tobacco in the past year versus 41 percent of women.
But some, including tobacco retailers, say it's not fair to compare cigars with cigarettes because most people smoke cigars occasionally.
"To the majority of the adults in the world, cigar smoking is an event — a happening — that they do to celebrate the birth of a child, graduations, weddings," said Billy O'Hara, owner of Jack Schwartz Importer, a downtown Chicago cigar store just a few blocks from the conference.
Web site: World Conference on Tobacco site: www.wctoh.org/