The University of Central Arkansas recently completed a pioneering effort that will offer insight into why some central Arkansas counties have more smokers – information that may help the state implement better tobacco prevention programs.
Ninety-five percent of smokers start before the age of 18. A grant made through the Arkansas Department of Health with funds from the Master Tobacco Settlement aims to help stop that trend.
The grant, which was awarded to local coalitions in Faulkner, Conway and Pope counties and managed by Community Service, Inc., a private, non-profit human services provider based in Morrilton, allowed information about perceptions, marketing and policies regarding tobacco products and usage among teens to be gathered in an effort to develop successful tobacco prevention programs and campaigns.
Jim Rhodes, a project coordinator at CSI and principal investigator for the grant, said,
?As a person who develops prevention programs, I have to respond to the results of the surveys with an appropriate social marketing campaign that makes people understand not only that young people are using tobacco products, but also that the attitudes and actions of adults can either help or hinder the problem.?
Rhodes asked the UCA Department of Marketing and Management to assist with the study. ?There are not a lot of experts in evaluating surveys,? Rhodes explained. ?So we sought the expertise of UCA?s Marketing and Management Department.?
According to Dr. Joe Cangelosi, chair of the Department of Marketing and Management, the study involved four surveys that were conducted in a six-county area that included Pope, Faulkner, Conway, Perry, Johnson and Yell counties.
The first survey asked community leaders how they and other residents felt about tobacco prevention toward minors. Community leaders in Faulkner and Pope counties showed the greatest support for tobacco prevention toward minors. Community leaders in those two counties also reported the most smoke-free work environments.
In counties where there was more tobacco usage by minors, the survey showed that residents were less likely to believe smoking was an offensive behavior, and they were less likely to believe secondary smoke was a health threat.
Those results affirmed the theory that in places where there is more tobacco usage, residents are less likely to address it as a problem issue.
The second survey gathered information from businesses and institutions such as schools, restaurants and day cares to determine how many of these institutions had tobacco policies. The majority of businesses in Faulkner and Pope counties had tobacco policies, while Perry County had the lowest percentage of businesses with smoking policies. The survey also showed that most businesses also had smokeless tobacco policies.
Rhodes explained the benefit of this information, ?If I can lower the ability of a person to smoke at work, there?s a greater chance that person will quit smoking.?
The second survey also revealed that businesses and institutions with a higher percentage of employees who used tobacco products were less likely to enforce their tobacco policies.
The third survey involved teens, ages 15 to 17, who were trained to observe tobacco promotion and prevention information in local businesses, and attempted to purchase tobacco products.
The teens reportedly observed more tobacco industry signs than health department signs with messages regarding the age limit to purchase tobacco products. The teens also noted that merchants with tobacco industry signs about age limits were more likely to sell tobacco products to minors. Cangelosi said it could be inferred that both teens and merchants take health department warnings more seriously.
One-third of the attempts by under-aged teens to purchase tobacco products resulted in purchases. Male teens were more likely to be sold tobacco products than female teens, and male clerks were more likely to sell tobacco products to minors.
The teens noted that when they were asked for identification, they were less likely to be sold tobacco products. Rhodes said he hopes to communicate this information to business owners and their employees. ?If we can get more merchants to start asking for ID, there will probably be fewer tobacco products getting into the hands of minors,? he explained.
Pope County had the highest percentage of merchants who sold tobacco products to minors, while Faulkner County had the lowest percentage of merchants who sold tobacco products to minors.
The final phase of the study was a survey that was required by the grant administrators, which identified tobacco cessation programs in the surveyed area. Four programs were found, of which three were free of charge.
The programs were provided by Conway Regional Medical Center and Alternative Medical Arts, both located in Faulkner County; and St. Mary?s Regional Medical Center, located in Pope County. Another program is a telephone hotline provided by the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services.
The surveys conducted by the UCA Department of Marketing and Management in conjunction with CSI, Inc., were part of a broad, long-range study that continues today. Rhodes said the long-range goal is to implement programs and marketing campaigns that are successful in preventing young people from smoking.