Exploring voluntary tobacco-related initiatives by businesses

Investigator: Ruth Malone, RN, PhD, FAAN
Sponsor: NIH National Cancer Institute

Location(s): United States


Voluntary tobacco policies initiated by businesses are an understudied phenomenon that may suggest a shift in how some businesses view tobacco. These policies may further denormalize tobacco and reduce access to and use of tobacco products. Understanding their development, implementation and public reception will contribute to determining how the public health community should respond.

Tobacco use is the most important preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S. Normal consumer use of tobacco products causes multiple types of cancers, yet tobacco uptake continues and cigarettes remain widely available and aggressively promoted. Tobacco control has advanced through mandated local and state policies, including clean indoor air laws and taxation. Recently, a number of businesses in different regions have implemented voluntary tobacco-related policies absent legal mandates. Examples include smoke-free restaurants in areas lacking clean indoor air laws, and grocery stores discontinuing cigarette sales. However, little is known about such voluntary innovations by businesses. This project explores why and how businesses initiate such policies, and media and public responses to them. Understanding more about this emerging phenomenon is strategically important for tobacco control, because such voluntary policies have tobacco- denormalizing effects and may serve as models or precursors to more comprehensive policies in places where they are lacking. Using case studies and media analyses, we will study various voluntary tobacco initiatives by businesses and analyze their implications for tobacco control. Specific Aim #1: Conduct a set of case studies (n=20) of businesses that have implemented voluntary tobacco-related policies in order to describe why and how businesses create these policies, and explore public and media responses to them. Case studies will include interviews, focus groups, observations, and analysis of related media coverage. Specific Aim #2: Examine the extent, content, and framing of local and national media coverage of voluntary tobacco-related policies by businesses nationwide, from 1995-2010. This innovative study will provide knowledge essential for shaping how public health advocates' work with businesses on their tobacco policies.