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Release: June 19, 2002

Survey shows smoking rates decline at the UI

Smoking rates among students at the University of Iowa have decreased dramatically since the inception of smoke-free floors in residence halls in 1998, according to results of a survey conducted by Health Iowa/Student Health Service.

The data was collected via Health Iowa/Student Health Service's Undergraduate Health Interest and Practices Survey, which has been administered every other year since 1991 to a representative sample of 500 UI undergraduate students, weighted by grade level and gender. The survey is administered in university classes.

Christopher Squier, professor and associate dean for research in the UI College of Dentistry, will present the findings in a poster presentation at the 3rd Annual Conference on Smoking or Health in Warsaw, Poland this week, comparing the UI smoking rates with the University of Minnesota, which does not have smoke-free residence halls. Eileen Fisher, associate research scientist in the UI College of Public Health, and Sarah Hansen, Health Iowa program coordinator, co-authored the presentation.

The survey results showed that the number of UI students who reported smoking in the past 30 days declined from a peak of 41.1 percent in 1997 to 28.3 percent in 2001. Smoke-free floors within the UI residence halls began in August 1998 and all residence halls became smoke-free in August 2000.

At the same time, smoking rates among students at the University of Minnesota have continued to increase, reaching 48.5 percent in 2000. The Minnesota data was obtained every other year between 1992 and 2000 using a similar survey.

"Prevalence of smoking between 1991 and 1998 at the UI and the University of Minnesota was very similar, increasing steadily from less than 24 percent in 1991 to more than 40 percent in 1998," Hansen said. "It was not until after 1998, when smoke-free floors in the residence halls were instituted, that smoking prevalence at the UI began to drop."

The presentation includes data on the 30-day smoking prevalence for a Midwestern population, ages 18-25. The data, obtained from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse for the years 1994-2000, indicates that smoking prevalence increased among 18 to 25 year-olds in the Midwest from less than 40 percent in 1994 to 44 percent in 1999, then decreased slightly.

Hansen noted that the shift to smoke-free residence halls at the UI was accompanied by a social norm marketing media campaign, quit smoking contests, and personalized tobacco cessation services for quitters. Many of these interventions were funded by Four Counties for Tobacco Control, with a grant from the Iowa Department of Public Health. Educational and policy efforts have led to changes in the wider Iowa City community as well. A smoke-free restaurant ordinance was passed by the Iowa City Council and went into effect in March 2002.