College students are at risk for cigarette smoking initiation and current occasional smokers are at risk of progression to heavy or daily smoking. The environment is recognized to have an influence on smoking initiation and maintenance, but the interaction between individual smoking behaviors and the college environment is largely unknown. The purpose of this project is to identify elements of the college environment that lead to the uptake and maintenance of smoking behaviors in students using social capital theory to understand how students engage in their campus environment. Currently, there are no instruments available for researchers to measure the impact of social capital on health behaviors that is unique to college campuses. The primary goal of this project is to develop an instrument to measure social capital in college students which can then be used to assess the relationship between social capital and health behaviors in college students, specifically, cigarette use.
The AIMS of the study 1) to explore the qualitative meaning of social capital constructs and related concepts among college students, 2) to develop an instrument to measure the multiple dimensions of social capital in college students, and 3) to examine the relationship between social capital and cigarette use in college students. We expect that the development of a college student social capital instrument will serve to increase understanding of the inter-relations between campus environment and individual characteristics as they relate to smoking behaviors in college students. Such understanding can inform community-level smoking prevention and cessation interventions in order to achieve better and more efficient outcomes.
Patterns of cigarette smoking and other health risk behaviors point to community-level influences. Understanding how community engagement at an individual-level and environmental factors at a community- level operate (using Social Capital Theory) are a critical step to develop effective community interventions for smoking prevention and cessation. College students are particularly vulnerable to high risk behaviors, and colleges can play a key role in early intervention of smoking in order to prevent morbidity and mortality across the lifespan if we can first understand how social capital functions for students.