Ask Dr. Jeff
Dear Dr. Jeff: "I'm a first year student living in a "chem-free" dormitory. I was over at a friend's room, in one of the upper-class houses. Her roommate smokes, and their room smelled pretty awful. My friend says she doesn't mind, but I'm allergic to smoke, and had to leave. I wonder what my options will be next year?" R.B.
Dear R.B.: With your allergy to tobacco smoke, I'm glad to hear you're
living in a "chemical-free" dormitory. As a matter of fact,
I wish all Bowdoin students could be living in safer, smoke-free, housing.
The dangers of smoking are exceedingly well known. A full 30 percent
of all cancer deaths are caused by tobacco use. 33 percent of all smokers
will die prematurely because of their habit. With typical smoking rates
on college campuses being about 28 percent, this means that nearly one
in ten college students in this country will die prematurely from tobacco
Members of Bowdoin's Class of 2004 reported a lifetime tobacco use rate
of 38 percent, a figure that represents a 13 percent increase over their
predecessors in the Class of 2003. During the previous year, more than
20 percent reported smoking more than once a month, while 18 percent reported
smoking six times or less.
The dangers of second-hand smoke are also now equally clear. Environmental
tobacco smoke, like asbestos, is a Class A carcinogen. That means that
exposure to second hand smoke is dangerous in any amount. In other words,
there is no such thing as a safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,
no matter how small, no matter how infrequent. Dividing indoor space into
smoking and non-smoking sections is not protective. As someone recently
put it so well, having a non-smoking section in a restaurant (you can
substitute dormitory here), is like having a non-peeing section in a swimming
After all the legal thrashing tobacco companies have taken in recent
years, they are no longer able to target children and young adolescents
in their marketing campaigns. Industry watchdogs have reported that tobacco
companies are unequivocally now targeting older adolescents, especially
college students. Students may think they are being treated especially
well at those pub nights, sponsored by R J R, or that they just like to
go hear the bands that are brought in, but they are in fact being bought
and sold by proven marketing ploys.
While it is true that relatively few students at Bowdoin smoke - or at
least say they smoke - a greater number experiment with occasional "social"
smoking at parties, or while drinking with friends. Unfortunately, a substantial
number will go on to smoke more, and to smoke more often. Over time, they
may well become regular smokers. Nicotine has greater than a 50 percent
What can be done? If you and your friends are concerned, you need to
express those concerns. You need to talk with other students, and talk
to student government leaders. If you want smoke-free housing, you need
to advocate for it for all Bowdoin students. It is your right to study
here in a safe and healthy environment.
Jeff Benson, M.D., M.P.H.