SUNY Cobleskill Applied Psychology students, under the guidance of Professor Amy Corbett, helped implement a telephone survey of residents in Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie Counties in cooperation with Advancing Tobacco Free Communities (ATFC) this past spring to measure smoking behavior as well as attitudes toward tobacco use and community tobacco control policies.

The data collected from the three-county study will help ATFC make strategic decisions regarding program initiatives. ATFC conducts a survey of opinions and behaviors about every two years. This study, covering Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties, was funded by a grant from the New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Control to the Research Foundation of SUNY at SUNY Cobleskill.

The study gave students in Psych 250 and Psych 400 courses an opportunity to put their lessons into practice while providing a concrete service to the community. Nine SUNY Cobleskill psychology students completed online human subjects research (IRB) training and helped with data collection about tobacco point-of-sale and tobacco-free outdoors in addition to baseline information about smoking rates and electronic nicotine delivery systems (i.e. vape pens/electronic cigarettes).

A temporary call center was established in the Old Gym building on the SUNY Cobleskill campus. Psych students participating in the community tobacco survey project included Taylor Brooker, Cheyenne Brown-McDonald, Larkin Cooper, Jessica Guarneros, Michelle Hatorff, Emily May, Jessica Pemberton, LaQuanda Rivers and Sarah Ruggles.

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 options that they have to address these problems. There are 25 ATFC organizations covering every county of New York State.

Survey Results

The majority of respondents were female (64%), did not have children under 18 living at home (53%) and were in the 55- 74-year-old age group (50%). Primarily non-smokers were in the sample who completed community survey calls. In considering use of tobacco rates among the sample, significantly more of the sample smoked cigarettes daily (14%) as opposed to smokeless tobacco (1.4%) or vape pens/e-cigarettes (1.4%).

  • People in the three-county area do believe that the presence of tobacco products 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 to between 30% and 40% for these policy options.
  • 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 much of the sample who used them. Many respondents across all three counties felt they did not know enough about vaping to say whether they thought it was more or less harmful than regular cigarettes (40%-45%).
  • 30% to 40% of respondents felt 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.
  • Smoking rates are higher locally. While the current smoking rate among adults in New York State is 15.6%, the smoking rates locally are 22.9% for Delaware County, 26.3% for Otsego County and 19.3% for Schoharie County.

Smoking is still a problem and is the number one preventable cause of death in New York State and the United States. Cigarettes kill more people in the United States than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, cocaine, fires, heroin, homicide and suicide combined.

The average age of a new smoker in New York State is 13 years old.