Online Tobacco Control Information Can be Improved

From 2000 to 2001, Philippe Boucher, a consultant in Bainbridge Island, Wash., inventoried and evaluated tobacco control websites and online services.

Internet tools are crucial as a way to manage tobacco control information. However, health agencies and other groups that create websites and online services do so in isolation, an approach that prevents them from making the most of other online initiatives and adopting better practices. Boucher:

  • Inventoried and indexed tobacco control website efforts of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Surveyed approximately 200 webmasters from tobacco control sites run by states, commercial organizations and nonprofit organizations.
  • Evaluated tobacco control websites and outlined best practices.
  • Did 52 online interviews with prominent tobacco advocates.

Boucher started these weekly online interviews in 1999. The interviews funded by this project started on November 1, 2000 (Ross Hammond interview) and ended on February 25, 2002 (Andrew Pendleton interview). Boucher has also published 45 of them in a book, People and Issues in Tobacco Control.

Key Findings

  • The assessment of tobacco control online services revealed that:

    • Tobacco control decision-makers do not yet consider funding Internet projects a priority.
    • Because there is so much tobacco control information available, a clearinghouse with daily, weekly and monthly selections is necessary to sort and present the most important news.
    • Many tobacco control professionals still do not use the Internet for tobacco control news and information. To reach the U.S. tobacco control community, it is therefore advisable to create a quarterly paper, providing a forum where people could share their initiatives, ideas and problems as a complement to online services.
    • Only a few states (Arizona, Massachusetts, Minnesota, California, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Oregon, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin) have or are developing comprehensive, well-designed tobacco control websites. Half of the states either do not operate a tobacco control website or have sites with little information; of those states that do have tobacco control websites, half rarely update them.

Key Recommendations

  • To help new sites perform better, Boucher recommended establishing a cooperative network of tobacco control webmasters, and suggested that RWJF bring together its Internet-based tobacco control projects to construct such a framework. As a starting point for best practices, the project director recommended that all websites include the following:

    • A staff directory.
    • Key quantitative data (smoking prevalence, budget, sales, taxes, industry ads, regulations).
    • Recent and archived past news.
    • Program evaluations in an accessible format (i.e. non-pdf).
    • Detailed descriptions of ongoing projects.
    • Regular and frequent updating.
    • An e-mail address for questions.
    • Listserves to help partners communicate.
    • Reference and specialized site links.
    • Traffic information including the number of visitors and pages.
  • Boucher also proposed a number of Web projects including online information from tobacco control conferences such as abstracts of presentations, and a yearbook of tobacco control activities.

    Boucher wrote two reports about the project findings for RWJF:

    • How to Improve Online Tobacco Control Information.
    • Tobacco Control Sites Index: State-by-State Evaluation Sheet, January/October 2001.

    He also edited and self-published (printed on demand) a 402-page book, People and Issues in Tobacco Control, which includes 124 interviews, 45 prepared under this grant.