Popular Science Monthly/Volume 77/August 1910/The Effects of Smoking on College Students




THE question of the effects of tobacco upon the smoker has received much attention from moralists, educators, physicians and scientists. The literature on the subject is voluminous. Numerous investigators have experimented upon animals, mainly to determine the effects produced by nicotine. The results of these experiments show that nicotine when injected in animals acts as a strong poison, causing disturbances of the nervous, circulatory and respiratory functions. The problem of determining the effects of smoking upon human beings presents far greater difficulties than the effects of nicotine injections on animals. There is very little agreement in the conclusions reached by the many physiologists and physicians, who have investigated this problem.

Professor Lombard, of the University of Michigan, has shown that in from five to ten minutes after beginning to smoke an ordinary cigar muscular power began to diminish, and in an hour when the cigar was burned, it had fallen to about 25 per cent, of its initial value. The total work of the time of depression compared with a similar normal period was as 24.2 is to 44.8.

According to Dr. Woodhead, of Cambridge University:

Cigarette smoking in the case of boys, partly paralyzes the nerve cells at the base of the brain and this interferes with the breathing and heart action. The end organs of the motor nerves lose their excitability, next the trunks of the nerves and then the spinal cord. In those accustomed to smoking, it has a soothing effect upon the nervous system, but often acts as a nervous stimulant to mental work, as in reading. In those cases the effect is not due to nicotine itself but to the stimulus of the smoke on the sensory nerves of the mouth, which reflexly stimulate the vaso-motor system and dilate the vessels of the brain. There appears to be less irritation of the brain structure and motor nerves than of the sensory nerves, but the power of fine coordination is decidedly lost.

Dr. Clouston, the eminent English physician, writes on tobacco as follows:

The use of tobacco has become the rule rather than the exception among the grown men of Europe and America and of some parts of Asia. If its use is restricted to full-grown men, if only good tobacco is used, not of too great strength, and if it is not used to excess, then there are no scientific proofs that it has any injurious effects, if there is no idiosyncrasy against it. Speaking generally, it exercises a soothing influence when the nervous system is in any way irritable. It tends to calm and continuous thinking, and in many men promotes the digestion of food. To those good results there are, however, exceptions. It sometimes sets up a very strong desire for its excessive use; this often passing into a morbid craving which leads to excess and hurt. Used in such excessive quantity tobacco acts injuriously on the heart, weakens digestion, and causes congestion of the throat as well as hindering mental action. In many people its use tends towards a desire for alcohol as well. I have repeatedly seen persons of a nervous temperament where the two excesses in tobacco and alcohol were linked together. Tobacco, properly used may, in some cases, undoubtedly be made a mental hygienic.

Dr. Pereria says:

I am not acquainted with any well-ascertained ill effects resulting from the habitual practise of smoking.

Dr. Richardson writes of tobacco in the London Lancet:

It is innocent as compared with alcohol; it is in no sense worse than tea.

In the Fourth Annual Report of the Henry Phipps Institute, 1908, Dr. Lawrence F. Flick reports that of 443 male patients treated for pulmonary tuberculosis, 72.68 per cent, used tobacco. The result of the treatment was favorable in 38.28 per cent, of the patients who used tobacco, as against 47.42 among non-users. Unfavorable results occurred in 61.7 per cent, of the users of tobacco, and in only 52.62 per cent, of the non-users. Dr. Flick concludes:

Here again, as with alcoholism, we have merely evidence as to the influence of tobacco on the development and mortality of tuberculosis and not upon implantation. . . . The statistics here given, if they have any meaning at all, would seem to indicate that the use of tobacco by males may be one of the explanations why tuberculosis is at present as much more prevalent among males than among females. Tobacco undoubtedly depresses the heart and interferes to some extent with vigorous circulation. It is generally conceded that anything which depresses the circulation interferes with nutrition.

Under the title "The Effects of Nicotine," Dr. Jay W. Seaver published an article in the Arena, for February, 1897, in which he gives some statistics of the differences in the physical measurements of smokers and non-smokers among Yale College students. Unfortunately, Dr. Seaver does not give any figures of the actual measurements or the number of cases that he observed. He says:

A tabulation of the records of the students who entered Yale in nine years, when all of the young men were examined and measured, shows that the smokers averaged fifteen months older than the non-smokers, but that their size, except in weight, which was one and four-tenths kilograms more, was inferior in height to the extent of seven millimeters (about J inch), and in lung capacity to the extent of eighty cubic centimeters.

In explanation of the difference in age between the smokers and the non-smokers, Dr. Seaver says:

The difference in age in the two groups points to an age limit to parental restraint, and raises the inquiry as to what might supplement this influence.

In regard to the influence of smoking on the increase of physical measurements of college students, Dr. Seaver says:

The effect of nicotine on the growth is very measurable, and the following figures are presented as a fairly satisfactory demonstration of the extent of the interference with growth that may be expected in boys from sixteen to twenty-five years of age, when they are believed to have reached full maturity. For purposes of comparison the men composing a class in Yale have been divided into three groups. The first is made up of those who do not use tobacco in any form; the second consists of those who have used tobacco regularly for at least a year of the college course; the third group includes the irregular users. A compilation of the anthropometric data on this basis shows that during the period of undergraduate life, which is essentially three and a half years, the first group grows in weight 10.4 per cent, more than the second, and 6.6 per than the second, and 11 per cent, more than the third; in girth of chest the first group grows 26.7 per cent, more than the second, and 22 per cent, more than the third; in capacity of lungs the first group gains 77 per cent, more than the second, and 49.5 per cent, more than the third.

These figures have been widely quoted, and generally considered as affording positive proof that college students who do not use tobacco make far greater progress in physical development than is the case with smokers. Without actual figures of increment in measurements, these percentages signify little or nothing. For instance, the difference of 24 per cent, in stature increment reported might mean that the smokers increased 17 millimeters and the non-smokers 21 millimeters, but no one would attach any significance to a difference of 4 millimeters in stature measurement.

A recent study by E. L. Clarke, published in the Clark College Record for July, 1909, shows that 46.3 per cent, of 201 students smoke. The smokers exceed the non-smokers a little in strength and lung-capacity, and 26 per cent, of the smokers won athletic insignia against 16 per cent, of the non-smokers. But in the matter of scholarship, 68.5 per cent, of the non-smokers won honors as against only 18.3 per cent, of the smokers. Mr. Clarke concludes:

1. As a rule the non-smoker is mentally superior to both the occasional and the habitual smoker.

2. As a rule the non-smoker is equal, and probably slightly superior, physically, to all members of the smoking classes except the athletes. It may well be queried as to whether the smoking athlete does not make his gain at too high a mental cost to make it pay. No one would contend for a moment that smoking is the sole cause of these differences. There are numerous other factors that are inseparably linked with it.

The question may be approached from the physiologic, the moral or the economic view-point. In this article, the chief aim will be to determine if smoking exerts any influence upon the physical and mental characteristics of college students; the moral question involved will be considered only incidentally; no attempt will be made to present the economic view-point. The writer, with the cooperation of his assistant, Mr. Hyman Cohen, A.M., made a detailed study of 223 college students from two classes, including all for whom records could be obtained.

Percentage of Smokers

115 smokers or 52 per cent.
108 non-smokers or 48 per cent.

Age when Smokers acquired the Habit

Age 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
Number 1 0 0 2 0 2 0 11 11 18 30 23 16 0 1

Average Measurements of 145 College Students at the Beginning of Freshman Year and End of Sophomore Year

Age Weight Height Lung
68 Smokers, 1st. 18.8 59.1 171.8 4.02 5.82
68 Smokers, 2d. 20.1 62.5 173.0 4.10 685
Difference. 1.5 3.4 1.2 .08 103
77 Non-smokers, 1st. 18.0 59.0 170.4 4.08 570
77 Non-smokers, 2d. 19.6 61.6 172.5 4.28 671
Difference. 1.6 2.6 1.1 .20 101

The smaller number of observations in the physical measurements is due to two causes: first, the physical examinations are optional for students entering with advanced standing in physical education; these students usually take only the first examination; second, a number of students in this group had not yet taken their second physical examination when this study was made. The selection is therefore purely accidental.

It appears from these tables that there is no appreciable difference between the measurements of the smokers and of the non-smokers except in the matter of age. The slight advantage in the average measurements of the smokers at the first examination is undoubtedly due to the fact that they are 8 months older. The slightly larger gain made by the smokers in weight, height, and total strength during the first two years in college is really too small to have any significance.

Scholarship Records of the 223 Students

Average Marks
at Entrance
Marks during
first 2 years
Failures during
first 2 years
223 students 90 per cent. 66 per cent.  7 per cent.
115 smokers 89 per cent. 62 per cent. 10 per cent.
108 non-smokers 91 per cent. 69 per cent.  4 per cent.

The differences in scholarship standing between the smokers and non-smokers are distinctly in favor of the non-smokers.

If the only difference between these two groups of students is that the members of one group use tobacco and the members of the other group abstain from it, then it would appear that there is a direct relation between smoking tobacco and scholarship. A further study of these two groups brings out differences between smokers and nonsmokers in athletic and social activities.

Students who Won a Place on One or More Varsity Athletic Teams

Of 223 students 84 or 37.6 per cent.
Of 115 smokers 47 or 41 per cent.
Of 108 non-smokers 37 or 34 per cent.

This table shows that 41 per cent, of smokers and only 34 per cent, of non-smokers achieved success in varsity athletics.

Of varsity athletes 56 per cent, are smokers as compared with 52 per cent, of all students.

The following table illustrates the same point in another way, giving a percentage of 57.3 for the number of smokers on the various varsity athletic teams during one college year.

Percentage of Smokers on Varsity Athletic Teams during the Season of 1908-09

No. of Men No. of Smokers Per Cent.
Baseball 13 11 84
Soccer 11 7 63
Swimming 14 11 74
Crew 12 4 33
Hockey 7 4 57
Lacrosse 12 6 50
Basketball 6 1 17
Wrestling 7 4 57
Gymnastic 11 5 45
Fencing 3 2 67
Total 96 55 Average, 57.3

Participation in the social activities of college life is best measured by membership in college fraternities. The following table shows the relation between smoking and membership in fraternities:

Students who Belong to College Fraternities

Of 223 students 66 or 29.4 per cent.
Of 115 smokers 49 or 42.6 per cent.
Of 108 non-smokers 17 or 15.7 per cent.

This table shows a very close relation between smoking and membership in college fraternities.

Scholarship of Students who Belong to College Fraternities

at Entrance
Marks during
first 2 years
failures during
first 2 years
223 students 90.0 66.0 7.0
66 fraternity members 85.4 59.1 12.8
49 fraternity members smokers 84.0 56.6 14.4
17 fraternity members non-smokers 89.4 66.5 8.1

In order to show more clearly the facts brought out in the previous tables, the following comparisons are made:

Of 223 students 115 or 52.0 per cent, are smokers
Of 96 athletes 55 or 57.3 per cent, are smokers
Of 66 fraternity men 49 or 74.2 per cent, are smokers

There are more smokers among athletes and a great many more among fraternity men than among all students.

Of 223 students 84 or 37.6 per cent, made varsity teams
Of 115 smokers 47 or 41.0 per cent, made varsity teams
Of 66 fraternity men 41 or 62.1 per cent, made varsity teams

There are more athletes among smokers and a great many more among fraternity men than among all students.

Average Marks
at Entrance
Average Marks
in first 2 years
Average failures
in first 2 years
223 students 90 per cent. 66 per cent. 7 per cent.
115 smokers 89 per cent. 62 per cent. 10 per cent.
84 athletes 90 per cent. 63.2 per cent. 8 .4 per cent.
66 fraternity men 85.4 per cent. 59.1 per cent. 12 .8 per cent.

Smokers, athletes and fraternity men have lower scholarship records than other students.

There is some definite relation existing between smoking, participation in athletics, membership in college fraternities and low scholarship. These relations indicate that the factor of smoking can not be isolated from other related factors which may account for differences in age and scholarship. It is very clear, however, that students who use tobacco invariably rank lower in scholarship than students who do not smoke.

Those who are conversant with present conditions in American colleges, recognize two distinct types of students. President Butler, in his annual report for 1908-09, devotes several pages to a discussion of this subject; among other things he says:

Not so many years ago there were few boys who went to college without a serious, definite purpose more or less scholarly in character. They were looking forward to the ministry, to teaching or to the practise of law or medicine. Not many of them had in mind a career as merchant, financier or corporation official. With the lapse of time and the increasing wealth of this country, this condition has been very much changed. It is now fashionable to go to college, at least to some colleges, and the attractions of college life and companionship are powerful motives in leading young men to strive to surmount the barrier of college admission. This new type of college student, whether he knows it or not, goes to college primarily for a social, not for an intellectual, purpose. His wish is to share in the attractive associations of an American college; he desires to participate in athletic sports; he hopes in after life to mingle freely and on terms of equality with college-bred men. It is a good thing that boys of this type should go to college, provided that the college will recognize their existence as a type and will deal with them accordingly. To try to turn such men into scholars is a hopeless task. They are not fitted for high scholarship and they do not desire it.

The type of student referred to by Dr. Butler is a good fellow, he dresses well, has a generous allowance, belongs to a fraternity and tries to "make" some varsity team; he elects courses partly because they are easy and partly because the instructor is popular; he spends much time in social intercourse and athletics, and gets few high marks, mainly because he does not try to get them. This is the student who smokes, because he has the time, the money and the opportunities to indulge in the practise.

The non-smoker usually belongs to another type of student. He is the scholar who is ambitious for rank. Many students of this type earn part or all of their expenses by tutoring and other remunerative work; many of them hold free scholarships and must maintain high rank in their studies to retain them. Students of this type have little time for athletic training or social life of fraternities, and therefore few opportunities and incentives for indulging in the practise of smoking.

There are three points of interest brought out by this study:

1. College students who acquired the smoking habit before entering college are about eight months older at entrance than the non-smokers. Three factors are probably responsible for this difference in age: (a) all scientists who have studied the physiological effects of tobacco upon man and animals are agreed that it has a depressing influence upon the heart and circulation, also, that anything which interferes with the vigor of the circulation has a retarding effect upon growth. It is therefore possible that smoking may retard, both physical and mental development; (b) the age seventeen is the time when most boys begin to smoke, if for any reason a boy is older than the average when he enters college, there is more than an even chance that he will have acquired the smoking habit in the secondary school, and (c) the type of student described above who is primarily interested in social life and athletics, is found in secondary schools as well as in college; three out of four of such students smoke, and they are usually graded low in their studies, these facts would account for a higher average age among entering freshmen who are smokers.

2. The physical measurements of freshman smokers are slightly above those of the non-smokers, and the smokers gain more than the non-smokers during the first two years in college, except in lung capacity. These figures are susceptible of misinterpretation unless three important facts are taken into consideration. (1) The smokers are 8 months older than the non-smokers; their measurements should be slightly larger on that account. (2) It was shown that smokers belong to a class of students having larger means and therefore a more favorable physical environment—better nutrition, etc.—than the non-smokers; their measurements should be larger on that account. (3) It was shown that smokers participate in athletic exercises more than the non-smokers; their measurements should be larger on that account. That the smokers are not appreciably heavier, taller and stronger than the nonsmokers may be due to the depressing influence of nicotine on the circulation and the consequent interference with normal growth.

3. The scholarship standing of smokers is distinctly lower than that of non-smokers. The intimate connection existing between the smoking habit and participation in the social and athletic activities of college life makes it impossible to determine how much, if any direct influence the smoking habit exerts upon scholarship, but the results of this study and the similar results obtained at Clark College indicate very clearly that the smoking habit is closely associated with idleness and lack of ambition for scholarly achievement.

Conclusions.—The writer has no desire to defend the use of tobacco. The motive in making this study was to ascertain the facts concerning the effects of tobacco upon college men. The teaching of hygiene is making rapid progress; quantities of new books are being published in which the large volume of new scientific facts on nutrition, muscular exercise, and the effects of alcohol take the place of the dogmatic statements and easy moral of the old books; a similar change is desired in the treatment of the problem of the effects of tobacco.

A study of the literature on the effects of smoking, years of medical examinations of boys and men, experience in teaching hygiene and the results of this study have led the writer to the following conclusions:

1. All scientists are agreed that the use of tobacco by adolescents is injurious; parents, teachers and physicians should strive earnestly to warn youths against its use.

2. There is no scientific evidence that the moderate use of tobacco by healthy mature men produces any beneficial or injurious physical effects that can be measured.

3. There is an abundance of evidence that tobacco produces injurious effects on (a) certain individuals suffering from various nervous affections; (b) persons with an idiosyncrasy against tobacco; (c) all persons who use it excessively.

4. It has been shown conclusively in this study and also by Mr. Clarke that the use of tobacco by college students is closely associated with idleness, lack of ambition, lack of application, and low scholarship.