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Chain Reaction: Why College Women Still Smoke

Newsflash: It’s the twenty-first century. We are all aware of the dangers of smoking. We know that it can give you wrinkles, gum disease and increase your risk of heart attacks and lung cancer (just to name a few). People in their 70s can easily say that, when they started smoking, the health risks were not well known. They probably had their first cigarette when they were 10 years old (or before that), and no one worried for their future health.
That is certainly not the case today. Yet, people still start smoking in middle school, high school or even college. With the known side effects and health risks of smoking, what keeps it popular among college students—and college women in particular?
The Social Smoker
The main factor: acceptance, according to Dr. David Abrams, Executive Director of The Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies.
“Smoking is still a form of appetite and weight control and a way to improve body image and self acceptance in a peer group,” said Abrams. “Peer pressure and close friends who smoke are drivers of why kids in general still start smoking.”
Among young adults, Abrams said, there is some need to experiment and rebel against the status quo, as well as be open to changes regarding self image, sense of self and wanting to be seen by others in a certain way.
Bevin Donahue, a student at Syracuse University, can relate. “I think it’s really easy to get caught up in it, to start having one or two cigarettes a week socially, then a few more,” said Donahue.
Donahue began smoking in middle school. “I don’t really remember why I started, just to try it I guess, and then it became more of a habitual thing,” she said.
Donahue says she continued to smoke, mostly socially, because it was easy and seemed like a natural thing to do while drinking. Later, she says, she continued to smoke because she was addicted.
Donahue is currently trying to quit for the sixth time. “I never anticipated that I would get addicted,” she said.
The Invincible Smoker

 As young adults, we often have the attitude that we are invincible and that nothing can harm us.  When it comes to smoking, this can be a dangerous mentality to have.
“They may believe they will quit well before they have health problems,” Abrams said.
This misconception, says Abrams, seduces young adults into smoking, and then they become addicted and cannot stop.  
Margaret Amisano may be aware of the smoking risks, but they don’t affect her decision to stop smoking.
Amisano had her first cigarette at 16 years old. Marking the 21st  birthday of her sister who passed away two months before, at a time of loss and grief, a cigarette seemed like the perfect remedy.
“I didn’t care if it was bad for me or not anymore,” said Amisano.   
Even though we are aware of the long-term effects of our actions, they can seem so distant, that they don’t feel real.
The Stressed Smoker
After a smoker is hooked, Abrams says, stress is a common factor that keeps smokers buying packs day after day.
These days, Amisano says she smokes to help relieve her stress. She jumps at just about any excuse to light one up: in between classes, with coffee in the morning, getting in the car, at parties, meeting with friends, after eating, a motivational cigarette to get going on work and a celebratory one when she’s finished.
“I enjoy it mostly because it gives me a few minutes, whenever I want, to sit outside, relax, and re-focus myself for whatever I need to accomplish,” she said.

Amisano says she has thought about quitting, but has yet to make it a commitment. 
“There never seems like a ‘good’ time to quit,” she said. “During school, I’m too stressed, during summer, I’m too relaxed.”
Along with the addictive and rewarding feelings of nicotine, Abrams says, it may alleviate stress and depression, help with attention and concentration and other cognitive and sensory rewards.
Drugs, like nicotine, essentially hijack the brain’s reward systems and simply produce pleasant feelings and sensations.
For Amisano, it’s not just the effects of the nicotine. It’s a life choice.
“I’m going to live the way I want to live, because no matter what you do, you can’t predict when you won’t be living anymore,” said Amisano. “You never know when your time will run out regardless of whether you smoke or not.”
“Or in the words of Jim Morrison,” she said. “‘I’m gonna get my kicks in before the whole shit house goes up in flames.’”
From the Beginning – Just Say No


The best way to beat smoking? Don’t start. Pay attention to easy paths that may lead to more serious smoking: like stress, or socially smoking with friends and at parties – because before you know it, that one or two cigarettes a week, may turn into a pack or two a week. 
Already started smoking? It’s not too late! Here are some tips and tricks to kick the habit—because no one wants lung cancer.
Tips to Quit: From Dr. Abrams.

  • If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying to quit and try to stay quit for longer and longer periods of time.
  • Try a proven treatment (behavioral or pharmacological). These can double your chances of staying smoke-free.
  • Seek professional help from a more intensive treatment program with specialists trained to treat tobacco addiction.

Products Available without a Prescription at most Pharmacies:
Nicotine Patch works by using one patch per day for slow, steady craving relief.  1 box (7 patches) for $20-$30
Nicotine Gum can help to control sudden cravings for short periods of time.  Box of 100 pieces for about $30
Nicotine Lozenge can also help to control sudden cravings.  Box of 100 lozenges for about $30
David Abrams, Executive Director of the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies
Bevin Donahue, student at Syracuse University
Margaret Amisano, student at Syracuse University

Heather is a 2012 graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School with a degree in Magazine Journalism. Growing up in southern Vermont, she learned to appreciate the New England small-town life. During her time at SU she served as Editor-in-Chief of What the Health magazine on her college campus and was a member of the Syracuse chapter of ED2010. This summer Heather is exploring the world of digital entrepreneurship at the Tech Garden in Syracuse, NY where she is Co-Founder of Scrapsule.com. Aside from social media and home decor, she loves vintage jewelry, strawberry banana smoothies, running, and autumn in Vermont.
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