For years, studies have shown that smoking is inversely proportional to education. Thus, smarter, more mature people tend not to smoke or be caught up in the advertising and peer pressure/socialization issues that grab kids in high school and then get them addicted. But recent findings are showing that, while smoking is down among adults and younger teens, it is increasing in colleges. Does this mean that there is a change going on or that colleges are admitting students that are not as mature and intelligent as they used to be?
The answer is actually the very opposite of what people are concerned about. As colleges become more and more competitive, only the smartest kids are finding their ways into the hallowed halls of higher education. As a result, universities and colleges are crammed full of NERDS. Yes, it's true...loads and loads of geeks with nary a fashion sense nor an intrinsic knowledge of cutting edge music amongst them. And so, in the time honored tradition of imitation being the most sincere form of flattery, the nerds of colleges everywhere are turning to the quintessential role models of cool (think Beatnik poetry, film noir, jazz music) and have realized that one common denominator of the coolest factions of our society is....smoking.
It may be hazardous/cancerous/smelly/expensive/hard to do in California, but it has retained its cachet of uber-coolness. Think about the famous smoking people: Louis Armstrong, Calder, Miles Davis, anyone French, Hemingway, Hepburn, David Hockney, Magritte, Charlie Parker, Picasso, Sylvia Plath, Keith Richards, Sinatra, Steinbeck, Warhol....the list goes on and on. Upon arriving in college, one attempts to recreate one's image in the way that one had always wanted to be seen. For a large number of people going to the top schools, these role models would include those romantic Ivy League images of boys in peacoats strolling through the leaves with scarves about their necks--smoking a cigarette on their way to a poetry reading. I would imagine that many of these same people also take up drinking espresso and red wine, and may not have done so before college. Alternatively, it may simply be that the tobacco lobby is doing a better job of marketing to our age group.