Stopping Bad Behavior; a Lesson from Cigarettes

Unfortunately, many fraternity and sorority chapters are plagued with destructive behavior that threatens not only their existence, but the survival of their (inter)national organization, their campus fraternity and sorority community, and the entire fraternal movement. This behavior often violates the risk management policies that are in place to keep the chapter and it’s members safe. Yet, certain customs, traditions, and ritual are so ingrained within the culture of the chapter that it seems impossible to eradicate such behavior.

Luckily, there are many examples of massive shifts in societal norms that we can learn from. I happen to think that our fraternities and sororities have a lot to learn from the longstanding relationship our country has had with cigarettes.  Feel free to substitute and destructive behavior as binge drinking, hazing, homophobia, racism, sexism, sexual abuse, drugs, etc. as you read this post.


– During the period during and after World War 2, roughly 44-47% of all Americans smoked cigarettes. It was an accepted behavior, and was even glorified and directly marketed by our doctors. Our favorite television and radio shows were sponsored by the likes of Laramie and Lucky Strike. After all, tobacco has been America’s number one cash crop for hundreds of years. Cigarette use was celebrated as a part of our society. (source)

"Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life." -Dean Wormer

– Likewise, within our fraternities and sororities, many of our negative behaviors have been glorified in our popular culture, and celebrated by our members who were more than willing to live up to these stereotypes. Unfortunately, these behaviors are sometimes labeled as “boys being boys” and “girls being girls”, swept under the rug, and/or completely ignored, hoping they would go away on their own. These negative behaviors defined the fraternity and sorority experience in years past, and to a lesser extent, define our organizations today.



– Cigarettes hurt and kill people. If you choose to regularly smoke cigarettes, there’s a pretty good chance they will kill you. Cigarettes are an addiction that is very difficult to quit. In fact, smoking cessation has become a billion dollar industry (source). The million dollar question then becomes, “Why do people choose to start in the first place?”.

– Our negative behaviors hurt and kill people. If you do not follow your fraternity or sorority’s risk management policy, there’s a pretty good chance somebody is going to get hurt, or even worse. In fact, many companies make a healthy profit off of teaching our members about making better decisions, and our headquarters and host institutions spend a lot of money on these efforts. The million dollar question then becomes, “Why do these behaviors still exist?”.



– In 1950, the first major research studies were brought forth linking smoking to lung cancer (source). For the first time, the American public was being educated on the dangers of smoking, and the negative repercussions thereof. Over the years, more and more research was done to highlight negative effects such as second hand smoke, nicotine addiction, and chemicals within the cigarettes themselves. People began to realized that this behavior can harm or even kill themselves and the ones that they love.

– There are an immeasurable amount of individuals, and organizations dedicated to educating our fraternity and sorority communities on the dangers of our negative behaviors. The research has been, and continues to be done, the message is being delivered, and the support mechanisms are in place. So why do we still have so many problems related to bad behavior amongst fraternity and sorority members?


The Silent Majority with a Healthy Intolerance

– Even before the public was educated on the dangers of smoking, the majority of Americans chose not to smoke. However, it wasn’t until they had the facts on their side, that these individuals chose to stand up to the cigarette industry. Over the past sixty years or so, Americans have developed a healthy intolerance for cigarettes. The number of Americans who smoke dropped from 47% to  21% (source). It is because this once silent majority decided to stand up and be heard that we now enjoy such pleasures as smoke free restaurants, bars, offices, parks, and airplanes.

– The majority of our fraternity and sorority members know that hazing, alcohol abuse, drugs and the like are a danger to our organizations. Yet, very few individuals possess the will to speak up against such behaviors. Knowing the facts, should these individuals choose to ban together an develop a healthy intolerance for idiotic behavior within our chapters, there is no doubt that great change would follow.


No Mercy

The cigarette companies are on the ropes. Their once strong and faithful consumer base has turned against them. Backroom lobbying and sweetheart deals are being exposed, citizens are taking to the streets against these corporate giants, victims are winning battles in court, and even our government is taking measures to prevent tobacco use (sometimes in dramatic fashion). An all out battle is being waged against the cigarette companies from all directions. In sixty years, these companies have gone from providers of a healthy, hip product, to merchants of death. With the education being provided, and the support systems in place to stop this negative behavior, all excuses have been removed. If you choose to smoke, you are doing so knowing full well that it will hurt or kill you.

– We should carry this same no mercy attitude within our fraternities and sororities. Our chapter members, headquarters, host institutions, advisors, alumni, parents, and all of our other constituents must remain focus on eleminating these behaviors through education, a healthy intolerance, and by providing a support system that encourages alternative behavior. With the education being provided, and the support systems in place to stop this negative behavior, all excuses have been removed. If you choose to engage in destructive behavior, you are doing so knowing full well that it will hurt or kill you or your members.

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