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Tips on How to Conduct a Community Assessment on Tobacco Issues

A community assessment is a vital tool that coalitions use to fully understand and articulate the substance abuse problems, risk factors, and local conditions in their communities. In the case of tobacco use, completing an assessment, can confirm quantitatively and qualitatively why tobacco use is a problem in their community, who is using tobacco, where and when it’s happening, how young people are getting access to tobacco, and who’s being most affected by the problem. Community assessments are designed to help coalitions learn as much as they can about a problem before they craft community-specific interventions.

A community assessment is more than just about collecting data; the assessment must describe the community environments in which drug use does and does not occur. To achieve that goal, a community assessment is comprised of five elements: Community Description, Community History, Needs Assessment, Resource Assessment, and Problem Statement. For the purposes of this toolkit, we will focus on the Needs Assessment portion of the Community Assessment which serves as an analysis of the community-level risk factors and local conditions related to substance use (i.e. tobacco).

Chances are good that many coalition partner organizations already have access to the data that will inform your needs assessment. When you’re collecting additional data, the goal is to find specific information that can help you tell a complete story about the tobacco problems in your community. What does that mean? It means that you’re not just looking for “how much {tobacco} is being used,” but also, you’re looking for data to tell you the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and ‘how” of the tobacco use and abuse.

Review this list of local data measures your coalition should explore.

Local Data Measures for Tobacco Use

  • Tobacco-related mortality
  • Tobacco-related crime
  • Tobacco dependence
  • Current tobacco use rates
  • Age of initial use
  • Retail availability of tobacco
  • Social availability of tobacco
  • Community laws/norms favorable toward tobacco use
  • Parental attitudes favorable toward tobacco use
  • Favorable youth attitudes toward tobacco use
  • Where the problem is occurring and are there specific settings that are considered high-risk?

Your local data measures should include both qualitative data and quantitative data. Quantitative Data is data that can be measured using numbers and Qualitative Data is based on individual reports or anecdotes. Think of it like this: quantitative data gives you the numbers and qualitative data tells us the story behind them. These data collection methods – Quantitative and Qualitative – are not in opposition of each other. Instead, they work together to form a more complete picture of your community.

According to CADCA’s National Coalition Institute (CADCA Institute), the best ways to obtain qualitative data is through community forums or town hall meetings, focus groups, listening sessions and environmental scans. Quantitative data is typically collected through student and partner surveys and archival survey data from hospitals, health and police departments and the school system. Refer to the Community Assessment Checklist for examples of local tobacco data indicators.

For more guidance on developing a community assessment, refer to the CADCA Institute’s Assessment Primer.