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A digital mixed methods evaluation of university tobacco-free policies

Institution: CSU Fullerton Auxiliary Services Corporation
Investigator(s): Joshua Yang,
Award Cycle: 2019 (Cycle 29) Grant #: T29IP0465 Award: $540,733
Subject Area: State and Local Tobacco Control Policy Research
Award Type: High Impact Pilot Award

Initial Award Abstract
College smoke-free policies protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke and help reduce active smoking and tobacco uptake, particularly important among college-age populations. Though the number of California smoke- and tobacco-free campuses has rapidly expanded, key characteristics of these policies are variable. This includes potential differences in policy language, adoption, implementation, and enforcement. Hence, the purpose of this pilot study is to use a novel mixed methods approach leveraging campus engagement and advances in big data to conduct a cross-comparison evaluation of university tobacco-free policies in two public university institutions and systems, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). In the first phase, focus groups will be conducted with current smokers at UCSD and CSUF to assess: (a) awareness and attitudes towards campus tobacco-free policies, (b) characteristics of campus smoking culture, (c) violation of campus tobacco-free policies and rationale for behavior, and (d) changes in smoking behavior as impacted by tobacco-free policies (including transitions of use between tobacco products). Focus group results will inform the surveillance component of the study used to conduct data mining on popular social media platforms, Twitter and Instagram, commonly used by college-aged smokers to self-report attitudes and behavior regarding smoke-free policies. We will collect and analyze prospective data of California geolocated user conversations using advanced machine learning approaches (including deep learning) to: (1) characterize attitudes and behaviors related to campus smoke-free policies; (2) potentially detect self-reported user violations of smoke-free policies; and (3) conduct geospatial sub-analyses of areas within or near California universities. Preliminary study results will be presented to university personnel responsible for administering tobacco-free policies to initiate discussion about new and/or refined policy and programmatic options for enhanced implementation of and compliance with campus smoking policies. The study will provide critical data regarding perceptions of and behavioral response to university smoke-free policies, enabling enhanced health behavior outreach/education and better policy implementation.