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Effects of social capital on smoking: elasticity & pathways

Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Investigator(s): Richard Scheffler, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2005 (Cycle 14) Grant #: 14IT-0175 Award: $98,854
Subject Area: Public Health, Public Policy, and Economics
Award Type: Inno Dev & Exp Awards (IDEAS)

Initial Award Abstract
As the leading preventable cause of death in the US, the health detriments of cigarette smoking have been documented extensively. California is ahead of the rest of the nation in its anti-tobacco efforts with numerous voter-supported tax increases on cigarettes, anti-smoking social marketing campaigns, and increased regulations against second-hand smoke, promotional advertising, and sales to minors. Studies show that all of these strategies have been successful in reducing the prevalence of smoking, as well as smoking consumption. However, more recent research has warned that some of these methods are less effective for targeting some groups (e.g. social smokers) than others (e.g. smoking addicts), and have called for further investigation into smoking behavior so that more effective anti-smoking strategies can be developed.

In this effort, we have identified a potential new strategy for further reducing smoking in California. The concept of community social capital (CSC) —the level of participation in civic, social, or religious organizations of individuals within a community—can be applied to smoking. We believe that increased levels of CSC in communities should facilitate the diffusion of health information and adoption of healthy behavior norms, leading to reductions in cigarette smoking. To test this hypothesis, we will estimate how much the level of cigarette smoking is affected by varying levels of CSC across the state, and compare this with the effects of varying levels of cigarette prices and exposure to both anti-smoking and smoking advertising media. Because the effects of media exposure, which aims to influence consumers’ attitudes toward smoking, may be amplified when there is more social participation, we will also investigate possible ways in which this combination works to influence different types of attitudes related to smoking including attitudes toward restrictions on public smoking, attitudes toward promotional material from the tobacco industry, and attitudes toward additional cigarette taxes. Finally, we will be testing the consistency of our estimates for the effects of price variation and CSC variation by using two different measures of price as well as two different health surveys. In each analysis, we will also be assessing any differences in effects for various race/ethnicities in an effort to better address the health of California’s diverse population.

The results of our analyses may have important implications for designing more effective anti-smoking strategies. Incorporating aspects of community social capital may significantly increase future reductions in smoking, helping to reach our goals of a smoke-free society.