Chicago Campaign to Reduce Smoking Being Evaluated by IHRP Researchers


IHRP researchers are evaluating a $11.5 million, multi-pronged effort to reduce tobacco use and secondhand smoke in Chicago.

Begun in April with funding from the federal economic stimulus, the Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project supports smoking cessation programs, policy and system changes, and media outreach—all strategies that in combination have been proven to decrease tobacco use and reduce exposure to secondhand smoke. IHRP researchers will be involved throughout the two-year project to ensure that the project’s goals and objectives are met and to measure the project’s effects on Chicago residents’ health, said Robin Mermelstein, the lead researcher and director of the Institute for Health Research and Policy.

Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of disease, disability and death, yet almost one in four adults and one in eight high school students smoke regularly in Chicago. The project aims to reduce smoking among the city’s youth by 25 percent and among adults by 10 percent.

The Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, a local nonprofit organization with a long history in tobacco control, is leading the campaign and partnering with the Chicago Department of Public Health and community organizations to reach populations who smoke at higher-than-average rates or who face increased health burdens because of smoking.

"One of this exciting project's best features is its use of the public health model, which focuses attention on the city's most vulnerable populations - public housing residents, pregnant women, veterans, and gay, lesbian and bisexual adults," said Mermelstein, who is professor of psychology and clinical professor of clinical health sciences.

In 2007, the Illinois Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System found higher-than-average smoking rates among Chicago adults who identified themselves as racially non-white, had an income level of $50,000 or less, and did not have a college degree. The Institute of Medicine reported that tobacco use rates in 2009 were higher than the general population and increasing among active-duty members of the U.S. military and veterans. Smoking prevalence among lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adults ranges from 25 percent to 44 percent and higher among LGB youth, according to the American Legacy Foundation.

The IHRP evaluation team will use both qualitative and quantitative methods to measure the project's effectiveness. Surveys will ask about exposures to, awareness of and recall of the campaign's messages airing on radio and television. Survey items will also measure attitudes and smoking behavior, so that changes attributable to the media campaign can be determined. In addition, the implementation, enforcement and acceptance of smokefree air policies will be assessed across public housing, health care and schools through key informant interviews and focus groups with groups such as resident managers in the Chicago Housing Authority, mental health clinic staff and hospital staff.

The $11.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the project was one of 44 prevention and wellness awards announced nationwide in mid March by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative, a comprehensive prevention and wellness initiative funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

"Seventy percent of people who smoke say they want to quit," said Joel Africk, president and chief executive officer of Respiratory Health Association. "This effort will target those individuals and connect them to local resources that can help them do so."

City officials point to the results of comprehensive tobacco control efforts in New York City, which indicate that a reduction in the number of people smoking has led to declining rates of deaths due to lung disease, cancer and cardiovascular disease. In particular, New York City's 19% decrease in adult smoking rates from 2002 through 2006 has resulted in 240,000 fewer smokers, has been linked to an 11% decline in tobacco-related deaths, and will prevent an estimated 80,000 premature deaths.

"We are confident that Chicago's project will reduce smoking rates, improve public health, and cut health care costs," said Chicago's commissioner of public health, Dr. Bechara Choucair, when the grant was announced in March 2010. "This project is well-aligned with our department's aim to make Chicago a safer and healthier city by working with community partners to promote health and prevent disease."

Other IHRP scientists evaluating the Chicago campaign are William Baldyga, associate director of IHRP; and Sherry Emery, an IHRP economist who specializes in examining the influences of advertising and marketing on smoking and other health behaviors.

IHRP tobacco control researchers are considered among the nation’s best with expertise in the understanding of the paths teens take to become regular smokers, the study of policy and other environmental influences on tobacco use among youth, and the development and testing of effective interventions to stop smoking, among others. Recent IHRP tobacco studies include:

This news release was written by Veronica Johnston, IHRP communications director.