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Community Survey Provides Data about Local Tobacco Issues

Some students majoring in applied psychology at SUNY Cobleskill helped implement a telephone survey of residents in Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie Counties in cooperation with Advancing Tobacco Free Communities (ATFC) recently. The approved survey included questions to measure smoking behavior as well as attitudes towards tobacco use and community tobacco control policies. According to Linda Wegner, Program Director for ATFC-DOS, “The data collected will help ATFC make strategic decisions regarding program initiatives. ATFC educates communities and decision makers, mobilizes community members around the problems that tobacco addiction causes in local communities, and helps decision makers understand the types of  choices that they have to address these problems.”

30% to 40% of the survey respondents believed that the problem of tobacco use was among the most important issues facing their county; however, more people in each county reported that it was only equally as important as other issues.

People in the three-county area do believe that tobacco product presence and advertisements in stores make it more likely for youth to begin smoking. 58% of those sampled believed that it was somewhat or much more likely for youth to begin smoking if they see tobacco products or advertisements in stores. Regarding future policies about the prohibition of smoking/advertisements/smoking promotions, throughout the survey it was found that most people were in favor of stronger legislation. The exception to this were the policy questions regarding restrictions on sale location, coupons, and discounts. Strong support dropped a bit to between 30% and 40% for these policy options.

When individuals were asked about their opinion regarding policies that prohibit smoking at outdoor public places like parks and recreation areas, 80% of those surveyed were neutral to strongly in favor of such a policy as compared to 20% who were somewhat to strongly against instituting a ban. 81% of people surveyed were neutral to strongly in favor of prohibiting smoking at public outdoor community events like fairs and sporting events as compared to 19% who were somewhat to strongly against such a ban.

One of the survey questions asked individuals about their opinion regarding a policy prohibiting smoking on a college campus. 83% of those surveyed were neutral to strongly in favor of such a policy while 17% were somewhat to strongly against implementing a ban on smoking at colleges. In New York State, more than 42% of college campuses have implemented a tobacco-free or smoke-free campus policy including more than 37% of SUNY campuses.

The most common purchase location among smokers were tobacco shops and convenience stores. Tobacco stores rated about 35% in both Delaware and Otsego Counties and only approximately 18% in Schoharie County. The most popular place to purchase tobacco products is convenience stores in Schoharie County at approximately 35%; the rate for purchasing at convenience stores is similar in Otsego County at 30%. Other purchase places are all below 20%.

31% of those sampled believed that vape pens/e-cigarettes are equally as harmful as regular combustible tobacco while 13 % of the sample felt that vape pens/e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking. Vape pen/e-cigarette and usage data is based on less than 20% of the sample. E-cigarettes were used as cessation devices among many in the sample who used them. Many respondents across all three counties believed they did not know enough about vaping to say whether they thought it was more or less harmful than regular cigarettes (40%-45%).

Smoking is still a problem and is the number one preventable cause of death in New York State and the United States. Ms. Wegner shared “1200 people die every day in the United States because of tobacco. That’s more than three Boeing 747 airplanes filled to capacity crashing every day.” While the current smoking rate among adults in New York State is 14.2%, the smoking rates in the Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie region are 22.9% for Delaware County, 26.3% for Otsego County and 19.3% for Schoharie County. The average age of a new smoker in New York State is 13 years old.