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Nicotine Tob Res. 2009 Apr;11(4):444-54. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntp006. Epub 2009 Mar 5.

Are college student smokers really a homogeneous group? a latent class analysis of college student smokers.

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  • 1Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157, USA.



College smokers are often considered to be one homogenous group, those reporting smoking on at least one of the past 30 days. However, considerable heterogeneity exists among college students who report current smoking. The aim of this paper is to characterize disparate patterns of smoking among college students using latent class analysis (LCA).


The sample consisted of 1,102 past-month smokers from 10 colleges in North Carolina who completed a Web-based survey. LCA was used to create homogeneous groups of smokers with similar patterns defined by multiple indicators of smoking behavior, including quantity and frequency of smoking, smoking contexts, and weekly patterns of smoking.


Five subclasses of smokers were identified: "heavy smokers" (28%), moderate smokers (22%), social smokers (19%), puffers (26%), and no-context smokers (4%). Demographic characteristics that varied among these subgroups were year in school, Greek membership, and residence location. Puffers were more likely to be younger students than heavy and social smokers, suggesting a transition from experimentation to regular use over time. Social smokers and puffers were more likely to be involved in Greek organizations than were heavy and moderate smokers. Moderate and social smokers were more likely to be current drinkers and to have engaged in binge drinking in the past month than were heavy smokers. This finding suggests that, for moderate and social smokers, a strong relationship exists between alcohol and tobacco use.


The results highlight the heterogeneity of college student smokers and underscore the need for targeted interventions.

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