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Changes in Cigarette, E-Cigarette, and Cannabis Use among U.S. College Students Studying Abroad

Research has shown that young adults are the most likely to experiment with different substances. Cannabis use can lead to many negative consequences and e-cigarette use has increasingly grown as a public health concern on campuses. The current study looks at smoking, e-cigarette use, and cannabis use among U.S. students studying abroad.

This study pulls data from a larger study with inclusion criteria including 18-25 years of age, planning to study abroad in one of the 12 most popular destinations, and planning to study abroad for between 4-21 weeks. The final study included 2,086 students who completed a pre-departure survey before leaving and an online survey during the last week of their experience. Frequency of substance use during the last month during the experiences was assessed for cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and cannabis. Lifetime substance use was assessed during the pre-departure survey. Measures also included age, gender, race/ethnicity, host location, and duration of study abroad.

The average length of the study abroad was found to be 13 weeks with Spain, Italy, and United Kingdom being the most popular locations. Results showed that 8% reported pre-departure cigarettes use and 24% reported it during the past 30 days abroad. 12% reported pre-departure e-cigarette use and only 9% reported it during the past 30 days abroad. Finally, 24% reported pre-departure cannabis use and only 13% reported it during their study abroad. Findings also showed that 34% of students initiated cigarette use for the first time while abroad. Overall, it was found that substance use mirrored smoking behaviors of native young adults. These findings show that U.S. college students may benefit from additional prevention and interventions before studying abroad. These interventions should potentially focus on cigarette use, as it was the most prevalent substance used.  

Take Away: The current study looks at smoking, e-cigarette use, and cannabis use among U.S. students studying abroad. 2,086 students completed a pre-departure survey before leaving and an online survey during the last week of the study abroad. Substance use including cigarette, e-cigarette, and cannabis was assessed pre-departure and during the last week of the student’s experience. Findings showed that 34% of students initiated cigarette use for the first time while abroad and cigarette use increased from 8% to 24% while students were abroad. These findings show that U.S. college students may benefit from additional prevention and interventions before studying abroad. These interventions should potentially focus on cigarette use, as it was the most prevalent substance used. 

Firth, C., Labrie, J. W., D’Amico, E. J., Klein, D. J., Griffin, B. A., & Pedersen, E. R. (2020). Changes in Cigarette, E-Cigarette, and Cannabis Use among U.S. College Students Studying Abroad. Substance Use & Misuse, 55(10), 1683-1691. doi:10.1080/10826084.2020.1756853

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