Collegiate affirmative action bans linked to smoking among minority students

High school students belonging to an underrepresented minority group are less likely to be admitted to college in areas where affirmative action has been banned, as prior research has shown. However, a new study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine finds that affirmative action bans may also negatively impact the health of those students.

Closeup of bottom third of a young person's face smoking a cigarette

Nine states banned affirmative action between 1996 and 2013. By looking at data from a tobacco-use survey and self-reported student information during that time period, researchers found that students in those states were more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and drinking to excess.

Further study is needed to determine specific causes behind the increased smoking and drinking risks. However, the authors hypothesize that underrepresented minority teenagers may perceive the affirmative action bans as signs that structural racism still exists, or that they themselves aren’t as highly valued. Another factor could be the increased competition for limited slots and academic stress.

The data suggested that the negative effects weren’t limited to the students’ high school days. Students in those states with bans were also more likely to smoke into young adulthood than the students in other states.

“We know that affirmative action bans reduce the likelihood of underrepresented high school students being admitted to selective colleges,” says lead author Atheendar Venkataramani, an assistant professor of medicine and medical ethics and health policy. “What this study shows us is that reducing their chances to attend a top college—and potentially undermining their expectations of upward mobility, more generally—may also increase their risk of engaging in unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking or excessive alcohol use.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.