Students at Some Top Universities Use Campus Debit Cards to Buy Cigarettes

A December study by the University of Colorado Cancer Center was published in the British Medical Journal: Tobacco Control. It found that 11 of the top ranked universities on the U.S. News and World Report list allow students to purchase tobacco products with their campus debit cards.

The study also reports that 13 universities on the same top 100 list, allow students to purchase e-cigarette products with their campus debit cards.

These campus debit cards are prepaid and often loaded by the parents of students. Typically, these cards are used to pay for food, services or events on campus with possible use off campus. How, where and what students can use their debit cards varies by institution.

Robert P. Dellavalle, senior author of the study and investigator at the CU Cancer Center, said in a recent statement “Parents put money on these debit cards and kids spend the money. What parent don’t realize is that tobacco may be purchased with some of these college debit cards.”

Researchers surveyed 100 universities of which 94 had a debit card program that was connected to their student ID’s. The total amount of students enrolled at the 94 universities with debit cards totaled close to 1.5 million.

This common use of these debit cards has been criticized in recent years as various consumer advocates voiced opinions about the high fees charged to cardholders, which are then collected by the universities themselves

The researchers behind the University of Colorado Cancer Center called the ability to purchase tobacco products with a debit card that is both university endorsed and profitable “socially unacceptable behavior.”

A similar study performed by Temple University 2009 showed that 42% of the students polled at a large university had used their campus debit cards to buy cigarettes. Temple University also found that these students were prone to smoking more often and more cigarettes in an average day than other students who purchased similar products using a different form of payment. Researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center referenced these findings in their report and notated the similarities in their results.

First author in the study, Lindsay Boyers said “Cracking down on this ‘campus cash’ is a major opportunity for these colleges to take a step toward preventing tobacco use on their campuses.”

The ability to purchase tobacco products with a campus debit cards sends a message to students that it is endorsed and accepted by the universities, especially given the fact that they are profiting from these purchases.

Dellavalle says, “Universities shouldn’t be taking debit card fees from in-network vendors selling tobacco products to their students.”

The report ends on a similar note in saying, “As an organization dedicated to university health, the American College Health Association can take a stand on this issue by banning universities from selling products on campus and prohibiting debit card purchase of off-campus tobacco products.”

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