Popular Science Monthly/Volume 81/October 1912/Smoking and Football Men




WITHIN recent years several investigations have been made concerning the effect of smoking on college students, hut in the opinion of the present writer the bases upon which conclusions were founded were often of such a nature that the results were more or less indefinite and unreliable. It has been very difficult to segregate the effects of smoking from other factors, particularly those of physical fitness and of social environment. In most, if not all, of these investigations, all classes of students have been included, ranging from the typical scholarship men to those who are in attendance, largely because of participation in athletic sports. Students of different ambitions, of different social classes, of different methods of living have been considered alike in one great group in such a way that the results were often susceptible of various interpretations.

In order satisfactorily to arrive at a definite conclusion concerning the effect of smoking an investigation should include men alike in physical and mental aptitude, except as modified by the use of tobacco. In general the men should be equal in physical fitness; it is manifestly undesirable to compare recluse scholarship men with those who are in attendance largely because of athletics. If such a heterogeneous group of men were examined with respect to scholastic standing the athlete would unjustly suffer, while if the same group were examined with respect to athletic attainment the injustice would fall upon the scholarship man, as it is quite generally recognized that the percentage of smokers is higher among athletes than among scholarship men. So far as possible the men should be alike in social tendency, as activity in social functions tends toward smoking and low scholarship. The socially inclined student, therefore, is likely to be a smoker and to belong to the low-scholarship group, but whether his low scholarship is due to his smoking or to his social tendency is difficult, if not impossible, to decide. In the main, therefore, the students under investigation should be either scholarship men or athletic men; they should be participating in the same kind and amount of athletic sport; they should be carrying the same amount of scholastic work; they should be taking part in the same kind of social activities.

While it is not claimed that all of these disturbing factors have been eliminated in the investigation about to be described, yet it is confidently believed that several of them have been largely avoided. It is difficult if not impossible to obtain a large group of men conforming in detail to the requirements above outlined, yet the closer such a group is approached the more reliable will be the results.

It occurred to the writer some three years ago that the football squad forms a very nearly homogeneous group. In the first place, the men are all athletes approaching physical perfection, a fact which tends to unify their mental attitude as well as their physical. Of recent years the eligibility rules have made it well-nigh impossible for transients and low scholarship men to "make the team," the regulations requiring the men to carry full courses not only during the year of participation, but also during the previous year. Socially the football men are much more alike than any group promiscuously gathered from the student body.

It is quite apparent that reliable conclusions can not be drawn from the records of a single football squad. Two years ago a few of the athletic directors in institutions in the inter-mountain states were asked to submit data relative to their football men, of course stating whether they were smokers or non-smokers. The results were very interesting and suggestive, but the number of men concerned was still rather small.

At the beginning of the present school year (1911-12) a much larger number of institutions were asked to assist in the investigation by submitting data. The following facts are based upon information received from coaches and athletic directors of fourteen American colleges and universities. The writer is fully aware of the fact that the varying conditions of the schools may introduce errors, yet they have carefully been guarded against and largely eliminated in the final summaries.

The blank forms sent out to the various athletic directors provided for the following data: age, weight, ordinary anthropometric measurements; ability on the team, whether fair, good or very good; scholastic standing of last year, including average scholarship mark, and number of conditions or failures; the number of smokers and non-smokers who attempted to "make place" on first team together with other more or less important features. The students were also to be designated as "smokers" or "non-smokers." The following foot-note appeared on each blank: "By 'smoker' is meant one who habitually smokes when not in training and not an individual who indulges at very infrequent intervals." It was thus desired that only habitual smokers be included in the list, as it is quite generally agreed that the infrequent use of tobacco is not seriously injurious.

It will not be possible to include a constant number of institutions or men in each of the various items following, as the blanks which were returned were only partially filled in; some of the institutions supplied one series of data and some another. In the item of "try outs" six institutions reported on 210 men; in the item of "smokers or nonsmokers" fourteen institutions reported on 248 men; in the item of "weight" fourteen institutions reported on 237 men; six institutions reported 108 men with respect to "lung capacity"; while fourteen institutions reported on 182 men in the item of "average scholarship mark." In each of the items following the number of men involved will be designated and also the number of institutions from which they are reported.

As just stated, six institutions furnished data relating to the "try outs." A total of 210 men contested for positions on the first teams; of this number 93 were smokers and 117 were non-smokers. Of those who were successful 31 were smokers and 77 were non-smokers. The following tabulation will make this matter clear.

Try Outs

No. Competing No. Successful Per Cent.
Smokers 93 31 33.3
Non-smokers 117 77 65.8
Six institutions reporting

It will be observed that only half as many smokers were successful as non-smokers. At first thought this point may appear to be at variance with the findings of Dr. Meylan at Columbia University. Under the title "The Effects of Smoking on College Students" published in this magazine for August, 1910, Dr. Meylan makes the statement "that 41 per cent, of the smokers and only 34 per cent, of the non-smokers achieved success in varsity athletics." This statement of course tells nothing unless the exact number of smokers and non-smokers who actually tried for places in the "varsity athletics" be given. It may be that only a very small percentage of the non-smokers contested for positions and that practically all who did so were successful, while on the other hand that a much larger percentage of the smokers made the effort and a comparatively few were successful. In such a case the actual number of successful smokers might be larger than that of the non-smokers, and at the same time the percentage of the successful smoking contestants might be very much smaller than that of the nonsmoking contestants. Consider the following case. Suppose an institution in which there are 400 men, 200 smokers and 200 non-smokers. Suppose that 150 of the smokers contest for positions and that 33.3 per cent. (50 men) are successful. Suppose further that only 50 of the non-smokers contest for positions and that 66.6 per cent. (33 men) are successful. In this case 25 per cent, of the total number of smokers and only 16.6 per cent, of the non-smokers obtained places on the varsity teams. It is clear from the above that the concluding sentence means nothing unless the number of smokers and of non-smokers contesting is given.

The conclusion that smokers stand but little chance with nonsmokers in obtaining places on football squads is not only shown by the total of the six institutions, but is similarly shown in each of the six. It should be observed here that the introduction of data from a single institution departing radically from the general trend of all others would influence very largely the average of the total. In such a case the average would be wholly unreliable. But in the case at hand where not only the total of the six institutions point in a given direction, but also each of the six, the average very closely approximates the truth.

The following table shows the inferiority of the smokers in each of the six institutions reporting:

Institution A. Number Competing
for Places
Per Cent.
Smokers 11 2 18.2
Non-smokers 19 11 57.9
Institution B.
Smokers 10 4 40
Non-smokers 25 17 68
Institution C.
Smokers 28 7 25
Non-smokers 17 14 82
Institution D.
Smokers 28 11 39.3
Non-smokers 15 10 66.6
Institution E.
Smokers 10 7 70
Non-smokers 15 12 80
Institution F.[1]
Smokers 6 0 0
Non-smokers 26 15 57.7

The following table gives the names of the institutions reporting and the number of smokers and non-smokers in each. Very incomplete data were submitted by three other institutions, two of which appended notes to the effect that the information was not wholly reliable. In the third institution the football squad contained no smokers. It may be well to state that the University of Utah is not included in any of the computations, as the team contained no smokers and, further, none of the men who tried for positions were smokers.

Institution Smokers Non-smokers Total
Amherst College 9 9 18
Drake University 2 9 11
Haverford College 4 17 21
Michigan Agricultural College 3 14 17
Northwestern College 12 5 17
Tulane University 7 14 21
U. S. Naval Academy 7 5 12
University of Colorado 5 7 12
University of Kansas 10 9 19
University of Montana 12 7 19
University of Pennsylvania 12 12 24
University of Tennessee 11 10 21
Western Maryland College 7 12 19
Yanktown College 8 9 17
——— ——— ———
109 139 248

Of the total number 44 per cent, are smokers and 56 per cent, are non-smokers. Of 213 students examined by Dr. Meylan at Columbia University 52 per cent, were smokers and 48 per cent, were nonsmokers.

From the following tables it will be observed that the two classes of men are of practically the same age and weight.

No. of Men Combined Age Average Age
Smokers 103 2,164 years 21.01 years
Non-smokers 134 2,821 years 21.04 years
Fourteen institutions reporting.
No. of Men Combined Weight Average Weight
Smokers 103 16,645 lbs. 161.5 lbs.
Non-smokers 134 21,579 lbs. 161.0 lbs.
Fourteen institutions reporting.

While the differences in age and in weight are very slight, it should be noted that they both are in favor of the smoker. This point will be considered later.

The following table shows the relation between smoking and lung capacity.

No. of
Average Lung
Smokers 47 162.9 lbs. 21.06 years 286.3 cubic inches
Non-smokers 61 159.6 lbs. 20.88 years 308.9 cubic inches
Difference 3.3 lbs. .18 year 22.6 cubic inches
Six institutions reporting.

It will be observed that smokers of the same age as non-smokers and 3.3 pounds heavier have a lung capacity of 22.6 cubic inches (7.3 per cent.) smaller. Inasmuch as the smokers are heavier than the non-smokers by 3.3 pounds, their lung capacity should, from the standpoint of averages, be correspondingly greater. The following computations are based upon the weight and lung capacity of the non-smoker:

Non-smoker's lung capacity at 159.6 pounds is 308.9 cubic inches.
Smoker's lung capacity at 162.9 pounds is 286.3 cubic inches.
Smoker's lung capacity at 162.9 pounds should be 315.3 cubic inches.
Smoker's loss in lung capacity is 29.6 cubic inches, or 9.4 per cent.

In the item of lung capacity, it appears that the effects of smoking are almost completely segregated from those of other factors. The habit of smoking here stands strongly indicted. The evidence becomes little less than proof conclusive when it is noted in the following table that the smokers show a decided loss of lung capacity in each of the six institutions reporting.

Lung Capacity
Cu. In.
Loss in
Lung Capacity
Cu. In.
Institution A.
Non-smokers 161.8 289.1
Smokers 167.4 284.3
Smokers at 167.4 should have 299.1 14.8
Institution B.
Non-smokers 161.3 287
Smokers 166.8 291
Smokers at 166.8 should have 296.8 5.8
Institution C.
Non-smokers 159.7 357
Smokers 156 336.6
Smokers at 156 should have 348.9 12.3
Institution D.
Non-smokers 170.2 333.8
Smokers 175.3 313.0
Smokers at 175.3 should have 343.8 30.8
Institution E.
Non-smokers 149.3 296.7
Smokers 152.5 264.3
Smokers at 152.5 should have 303.0 38.7
Institution F.
Non-smokers 157.7 278
Smokers 158.7 268.1
Smokers at 158.7 should have 279.8 11.7

The athletic directors of the various institutions were asked to divide their men into the classes, fair, good, and very good. This classification was to be based upon the ability of the men as all round football players. The following table shows the distribution of the men according to the rating of their coaches:

No of Men Fair Good Very Good
Non-smokers 139 68 50 21
Smokers 109 49 39 21
109 non-smokers would furnish 53 .3 39 .2 16 .5
Smokers' excess —4 .3 0 .2 4 .5

From these data it appears that smokers make the better football players. In interpreting the results, however, several points should be kept in mind. In the case of the "very good" men only forty-two individuals are involved, a number rather small from which to draw reliable conclusions. A single institution reporting four or five "very good" smokers or non-smokers and none of the other group (as several institutions have done) is quite sufficient to swing the totals one way or the other. And again, while the totals from the fourteen institutions seem to favor the smokers, this is by no means uniform when the institutions are singly considered.

Even if the above data were perfectly reliable there is still another vital point to be kept in mind. In the item of "try outs" only half as many smokers were successful as non-smokers. In other words, only the very best smokers were chosen, while with the very best non-smokers a group of second-grade non-smokers was included. At the beginning of the football season when the selections were made the first and second grade non-smokers combined were equal to the first grade smokers.

Furthermore, it is a well known fact that of two men, a smoker and a non-smoker, of equal ability at the time of beginning training, the smoker will develop into a better man than the non-smoker. This is the case because the non-smoker before training is very much more nearly at his best than is the smoker. As soon, therefore, as the smoker begins training (and consequently stops using tobacco) he has a much better chance for improvement than the non-smoker, who has not been kept back by the use of tobacco. If smoking does not in any way injure one's ability on the football field, the smokers and the non-smokers should supply an equal percentage of the "very best" men.

Now, when it is borne in mind that in the "try outs" only one half as many of the smokers are chosen as non-smokers, it follows as a simple mathematical deduction that the smoking football men should supply twice as many "very good" men as the non-smokers, a position which, if the above tabulated data were wholly reliable, they come far from reaching. It will be noted, therefore, that the apparent superiority of the smokers is in reality an inferiority.

In this connection reference may profitably be made to the item of weight given in a previous table, in which it will be observed that the smokers are one half pound heavier than the non-smokers. At first thought this point may appear to be in conflict with the findings of Dr. Seaver at Yale University,[2] where it was shown that the non-smokers were three pounds heavier than the smokers. The excess weight of the smokers is readily accounted for when it is remembered that in the "try outs" only one third of the smokers were successful, against two thirds of the non-smokers. In football, where the factor of weight plays an important part, it is quite apparent that the larger men are more likely to be selected than the smaller ones. If, however, in the "try outs" an equal percentage of the smokers and non-smokers were chosen the results would in all probability not be out of harmony with those of Dr. Seaver.

In the following the scholastic standing is shown.

No. of Men Total Mark Average Mark
Smokers 81 6,034 74.5
Non-smokers 101 8,021 79.4
Twelve institutions reporting.

It will be observed that the smokers average 4.9 per cent, below the non-smokers. This average alone, however, is not wholly reliable, as the standards of marking in the various schools are by no means uniform—an individual in one institution might be ranked at 75 per cent., while in another institution this same student might be ranked at 90. From the following table, however, it will be observed that the smoker is inferior in each of the twelve institutions reporting, a fact, of course, which strongly corroborates the above averages.

Institution Smoker Non-smoker Institution Smoker Non-smoker
A 65.2 69.8 G 74.0 75.0
B 64.7 74.6 H 75.2 79.4
C 78.8 81.1 I 81.6 88.4
D 75.8 77.6 J 78.5 81.3
E 84.6 84.8 K 74.0 84.6
F 69.6 71.3 L 77.3 77.6

In each of the twelve institutions reporting scholastic standing the highest and the lowest marks were tabulated for the smokers and nonsmokers. The results follow:

No. of Men Highest Marks Lowest Mark
Smokers 81 4 12
Non-smokers 101 11 6

Based on equal numbers of men the results would be as follows:

Highest Marks Lowest Marks
101 non-smokers furnish 11 6
101 smokers would furnish 5 15

Smokers would accordingly furnish 71 per cent, of the lowest marks, and the non-smokers only 29 per cent. The smokers would furnish 31 per cent, of the highest marks, and the non-smokers 69 per cent.

The combined conditions and failures of the two classes of men are shown in the following table:

No. of Men Total Conditions
and Failures
Smokers 82 70 .853
Non-smokers 98 43 .439

The smokers furnish twice as many conditions and failures as do the non-smokers.

The following suggestive points are brought out in this investigation:

1. Only half as many smokers as non-smokers are successful in the "try outs" for football squads.

2. In the case of able bodied men smoking is associated with loss in lung capacity amounting to practically ten per cent.

3. Smoking is invariably associated with low scholarship.

  1. It will be noted that no smokers obtained places on this team. In consequence of this the data from this institution are not used elsewhere in this investigation.
  2. See Arena, for February, 1897.