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Mass media, taxes and tobacco use

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UIC received $14.2 million from the National Cancer Institute for two studies of tobacco use: how smoking behavior is affected by the mass media, and the effectiveness of cigarette taxes and prices.

The two five-year studies at the Institute for Health Research and Policy build on previous research conducted by the institute to better understand what factors influence smoking behaviors.

In one study, senior research scientist Sherry Emery and colleagues will measure:

• the extent to which people are exposed to, search for, and exchange pro- and anti-tobacco information in mass media

• how these activities are related

• how these actions are related to smoking behavior, beliefs and attitudes.

In evaluating pro- and anti-tobacco information, the researchers will look at passive exposure (television ads, online banner ads and sponsored text messaging); what people actively search for online; and what they exchange via social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“The hypothesis is that if you’re exposed to, for example, an ad that says you should quit smoking, your level of engagement with that information will be substantially lower than if you actively search the Internet for ways to quit smoking,” said Emery, principal investigator of the $7.2 million grant.

“In turn, engagement will be even greater if you share your experience with quitting via social media. These different levels of engagement may be associated in important ways to tobacco-related attitudes, beliefs and behavior.”

Emery’s study will collect new data from an online survey of 15,000 people in the country’s top 75 media markets, seeking information on how often they see pro- and anti-tobacco information, as well as information on smoking behavior and demographics.

In the other study, Frank Chaloupka, distinguished professor of economics and director of the Health Policy Center, will lead research on tobacco product prices and smoking behavior.

Looking at policies affecting retail tobacco prices over 10 years, Chaloupka will evaluate the impact of price promotions on tobacco purchases (such as product and brand) and how far consumers will go to avoid paying tax on tobacco products by crossing state lines or buying online, by phone or mail.

The $6.9 million study will investigate how pricing and tax policies impact tobacco behaviors, including prevalence, frequency and intensity of use, the age people start smoking, cessation and substitution among products.

“Tobacco tax increases are widely recognized as the most effective policy governments have for reducing the death, disease and economic costs imposed by tobacco use,” Chaloupka said. ‘”Findings from this project will help to ensure that these policies are designed and implemented in a way that maximizes their effectiveness in reducing tobacco use and its consequences.”

In previous research, Chaloupka has found that increases in cigarette prices — including tax hikes — result in significant reductions in smoking. This research, cited by the U.S. surgeon general’s office, has led to many substance-abuse policy initiatives.


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