Seeing Through the Smoke

On the especially warm, recent sunny days, anywhere from five to 20 people can be seen on Wescoe beach. There are guys in plaid shirts and tight jeans, girls with piercings and patterned tops, guys in polos and Sperrys, and girls in long tops with leggings and Uggs. Some are sitting down reading, some are standing in groups talking, and some are on their phones. They have cigarettes in hand, smoking them quickly before they run off to class, or just relaxing, taking long, slow drags.

Despite the warnings on cigarette packs, in TV commercials and in school throughout childhood, more than 15 percent of college students smoke regularly, according to a study conducted in spring 2011 by the National College Health Association. Other non-habitual smokers include people who smoke when they drink, stress smokers and social smokers. More than 1,000 people 18 years or younger start smoking each day.

There are a plethora of reasons people start smoking, and once you start smoking, it can be very hard to quit. This is in part because of the addictive chemical known as nicotine.

Addiction’s Many Personalities

As many know, nicotine is the main addictive property in cigarettes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), nicotine increases the amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases happiness, released in the brain. These effects wear off after just a few hours, so some continue smoking to keep achieving this feeling. If your smoking becomes regular, your brain will want that reward dopamine gives you, resulting in addiction.

Brittany Hale, a senior from Singapore, started smoking when she was 14 years old, because her friends were smoking and it just went along with drinking. In Singapore, the legal drinking age is 18, but Hale says the bars aren’t strict and let younger people in. Since Hale became addicted, she kept smoking even after her mom caught her and disapproved. In one year, she went from smoking four cigarettes each day, to half a pack, to a full pack each day.

When Hale first came to KU, she says smoking helped her acclimate to the new environment and make friends. “Smokers stick together. You go outside and, even at bars here. You meet people when you’re smoking,” Hale says.

Hale says smoking relaxes her when she is stressed out, and she also enjoys smoking after she eats.

Since she smokes a pack each day, Hale says she smokes just about anywhere, anytime. She even smokes when she’s drinking coffee in the morning. “Of course I smoke when I’m out drinking. I definitely smoke more then,” Hale says. She doesn’t mind that she has to go outside to smoke, but does enjoy places, such as casinos, where you can smoke inside. All other public places like restaurants, bars and taxis are now under a smoking ban, since the Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act was passed in 2010.

Smoking Socially

More students consider themselves social smokers than habitual ones like Hale. More than half of college student smokers are considered social smokers, according to the American Lung Association, which means they usually smoke around other smokers. One of these people is Jeff, a sophomore from Iowa.

Jeff began smoking at age 16 with friends, usually at parties. He says he continues to smoke because when you smoke, you have the opportunity to meet more people.

Jeff smokes daily, but he still considers himself a social smoker because he usually smokes around others on campus or with his roommate. One in five of these social smokers become daily smokers sometime during their college experience, according to the American Lung Association. He also smokes on the porches at bars and doesn’t see a problem with indoor smoking bans. “Not everyone who drinks, smokes. Typically places that are nonsmoking have a back porch or designated smoking area,” Jeff says.

Nicotine Nostalgia

Giselle, an Overland Park senior, says the main reason she smokes isn’t for social reasons, and it’s not because of addiction. Giselle says she just enjoys smoking. “There are so many people smoking on campus and every time someone walks by I have that nostalgic feeling,” Giselle says.

Giselle, who smokes an average of one pack in three days, quit smoking for a year but started again in college. She says quitting wasn’t difficult for her; it’s a matter of if you want to quit or not, and she just didn’t want to quit.

However, most people have a tougher time quitting smoking. According to the National Institutes of Health, almost all people who try to quit smoking experience withdrawal symptoms. These are greater for people who have smoked longer or more often.

While she knows smoking is bad for her, Giselle says there are certain times that she just wants to smoke. Like Hale, smoking on campus helped Giselle make friends when she first came to KU. Smokers are pretty social, says Giselle, and talking about cigarettes or bumming from others are great ways to start conversations.

Smoking is also a great way to take a break when studying for long hours. “You’re literally stepping outside and away from your work. I have a chance to just get away, be by myself or chat for a minute. I can just clear my thoughts and get back to work. It gives me some motivation,” Giselle says.

Smokeless School Campuses

Since Giselle enjoys taking smoke breaks on campus, she says she would be angry if KU banned smoking, but she doesn’t really think it will happen. She had the experience of being on a college campus with a smoking ban when she went to Johnson County Community College for an artist lecture. She and her friends went outside for free food and to smoke, and she was surprised when the security guard told them they couldn’t smoke.

There are complete smoking bans on more than 650 college campuses in the U.S., according to American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. And while smoking bans and restrictions don’t prevent all smokers from smoking, according to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, they do drastically cut down cigarette use.

Despite this, Giselle says a ban at KU wouldn’t stop her from smoking and she doesn’t think it would stop others either. “People are going to do what they’re going to do. There are hidden places where I could definitely go to smoke. And if you’re there all night like I sometimes am, you’re not really going to worry about someone trying to catch you,” Giselle says.

Stress-Relieving Smoking

Jackie Sewell, Andover senior, grew up in a household where her mom, one of her brothers and both sisters smoked.

Sewell says she didn’t think of smoking as bad though, until her teachers and D.A.R.E. officers started saying things like ‘Smoking is really bad’ and ‘Anyone who smokes is a bad person.’ These statements confused Sewell. She had never heard smoking was bad and, as she says, she thought, “My mom is awesome. She smokes. I don’t understand.”

The message got to her and she became anti-smoking. Then, she says, once she was 19, she decided, “Hey, why not?” At the time, she was going through a lot of emotional distress and thought smoking might help her because it seemed to help her sister deal with stress. Sewell started out just smoking about two cigarettes each week and now smokes about seven cigarettes a day.

Whether or not smoking actually decreases stress is unclear because of conflicting research. Some evidence, including that from a 2008 study by the Pew Research Center, shows that smokers actually experience more stress than nonsmokers. In the study, of those who smoked, half said they often experienced stress, while only 30 percent of nonsmokers said they often experienced stress. According to the study, this could be a result of the anxiety and cravings in between cigarettes that the body develops over time. Other research points to cigarettes as a stress reducer. Information from the Cleveland Clinic says that while smoking increases stress on the body, it lessens emotional stress. This is because of the mood-altering components of nicotine.

Sewell is one of those smokers who feel that smoking helps decrease their stress. “It just makes you feel better. After you do a bunch of work, you’re like, ‘Yeah. Cigarette. Awesome,’” Sewell says.

Sewell does plan to quit smoking, but says she isn’t ready yet, because smoking is something she enjoys. She plans on quitting by the time she is 25. “I figure when I’m done with school and get my life together with a job and such, I won’t need to smoke anymore. I’m still in my phase with my determined time frame,” Sewell says.

  • Updated Dec. 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm
  • jquarrier

    Sewell, NOW is the time to quit smoking. By 25, you’ll be even more addicted. If you’ve graduated to being a pack-a-day smoker by then, you’ll be burning through over $2,000 a year on the habit in addition to the damage inflicted on your health. The only thing “Awesome” connected with tobacco consumption is its impairment to healthy living. By the time you qualify for Social Security, you will have wasted over $100,000 (in current dollars, based on a pack-a-day consumption), assuming that lung cancer hasn’t already taken your life by then.

  • Thatcher

    Cigarettes are trashy no matter what. When I see someone smoking a cigarette, I automatically think: white trash, low class, uneducated, etc.

    Cigars and the occasional pipe are the only way to go.