Defining "smoker": college student attitudes and related smoking characteristics.

Carla J. Berg, Pratibha P. Parelkar, Laura Lessard, Cam Escoffery, Michelle C. Kegler, Kymberle L. Sterling, Jasjit S. Ahluwalia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Less than half of college students who have smoked in the past month identify themselves as smokers. Thus, we examined (a) how college students define the term "smoker" and (b) how this definition impacts smoking behavior and attitudes. We conducted 12 focus groups with a total of 73 college student smokers drawn from survey participants at two colleges in Minnesota (a two-year technical college and a four-year university). Each group was homogenous in terms of gender and school (two-year, four-year). The majority (56.2%) were female, 49.3% attended a 2-year college, and 32.9% were regular smokers (smoked > or = 25 of the last 30 days). Participants described a "smoker" in terms of (a) smoking frequency, ranging from smoking infrequently to smoking daily; (b) contextual factors, such that smoking alone indicates being a smoker rather than smoking at parties; (c) time since initiation; (d) whether one purchases cigarettes, such that "smokers" buy cigarettes while nonsmokers borrow them; (e) addiction and being able to quit without great effort; (f) whether smoking is habitual; and (g) personality and physical characteristic. These beliefs had implications on experiences in quitting smoking, motivation to quit, and perceived barriers. Many participants indicated confidence in being able to quit but believed that they were not "smokers" and thus did not need to quit. College students use a broad range of criteria to define who is a smoker. These criteria impact how motivated students are to quit smoking and their perception of needing to "quit smoking."

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)963-969
Number of pages7
JournalNicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2010


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