Why conduct public opinion surveys?

Conducting public opinion surveys is an important part of an overall community assessment and can help your community determine its point-of-sale tobacco control strategy. Public opinion surveys can be used to:

  • Measure initial support for tobacco control strategies.
  • Determine policies that require education and outreach campaigns to build support (i.e., those with lower levels of public support).
  • Assess community norms and assumptions to inform media campaigns and determine policy receptivity in the community [1]
  • Help determine how to frame your messaging when educating the community and advocating for the policy.
  • Evaluate effectiveness of education and outreach campaigns with follow-up data
  • Inform policy priorities. In general, policies with greater support are more likely to pass.
  • Provide data to advocate for policy change.
  • Evaluate the impact of policies.

How to conduct public opinion surveys

You can craft a public opinion survey specific to point-of-sale issues or you may be able to incorporate measures into existing surveys. When developing a public opinion survey, consider requesting the following information:

  • Demographics (e.g., sex, age, race/ethnicity, zipcode). This helps assess the representativeness of your sample.
  • Smoking or other tobacco use status
  • Support for specific tobacco control policies, such as:
    • Prohibiting tobacco retailers near schools
    • Limiting the number of tobacco retailers
    • Prohibiting price discounts and coupon redemption for tobacco products
    • Prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products
    • Prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in certain types of establishments (e.g. pharmacies)
  • Knowledge, attitude, and beliefs about tobacco-related issues

Public opinion surveys can be conducted in a variety of ways, including:

  • Phone surveys
  • In-person (e.g. public intercept surveys)
  • Internet-based surveys
  • Mailed surveys

The appropriate format may depend on the sample you are trying to reach, capacity, and time available. This Public Opinion Survey Guidance resource from the University of California Davis’s Tobacco Control Evaluation Center outlines the benefits and drawbacks of each method.

Tobacco control organizations have also had success partnering with a local university or contracting with other entities (e.g. market research firms) to conduct the public opinion research.

Examples of public opinion survey results

New York City Support for Point-of-Sale Tobacco Control Policies: Raising the minimum age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21 = 67%, Prohibiting stores located near schools from selling tobacco = 66%, Requiring retailers to keep toabcco products out of customers' view = 59%, Prohibting pharmacies from selling tobacco = 60%, Prohibiting toabcco companies from paying New York City retailers to display their products and advertisements = 55%, Requiring that tobacco be sold only in stores that sell only tobacco products and nothing else = 49%

  • ANSR MN’s 2015 poll of Saint Paul residents on their support for a proposed ordinance restricting flavored tobacco products to adult-only tobacco shops.
    • They found that 64% of city residents supported the proposal.
    • This poll was conducted by telephone by Morris Leatherman Company, between November 3-11, 2015. It consisted of 400 randomly selected adult residents of Saint Paul. The poll was commissioned by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, in collaboration with the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota.
  • Florida’s Voter Opinion Polling (2015)
  • Researchers found national broad-based support through a 2013 administration of the Social Climate Survey of Tobacco Control, which demonstrated that over 70% of adults support raising the minimum legal sale age of tobacco products to 21, including the majority of smokers and individuals ages 18-21, who would be most impacted by the law.

Use of public opinion survey results

To learn more about how communities have used public opinion surveys, review the following resources:

Public Opinion Survey Tool Examples

Additional Resources

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