Colorado State University Professor Awarded Grant for Innovative Tobacco-Prevention Research Aimed at Latino Youth

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded a $100,000 grant to Kathleen Kelly, professor of marketing at Colorado State University’s College of Business, to conduct a study on the most effective ways to design tobacco-prevention advertisements for Latino youth.  

The study will focus on determining the most effective language – English, Spanish, or "Spanglish" – and themes in tailoring effective tobacco-prevention messages for bicultural Mexican-American youth.

The study will address a health disparity caused by the rapid growth of the nation’s  Latino population, which now is the largest minority population in the United States, and the increasing rates of tobacco use among Latino youth compared to that of other ethnic youth. While tobacco use among other ethnic youth groups has declined, Latino youth smoking has increased.

Research shows that, as Latino youth become more acculturated to the American lifestyle, they are more likely to use tobacco. One reason cited for this increase is that Latino youth receive a double dose of aggressive tobacco marketing aimed at both Latinos and at non-minority youth. In addition, acculturative stress and the erosion of protected norms have been cited as reasons for the increase.

Although counter-advertising can be an effective tobacco-prevention tool, few studies have been done to determine the most effective ways to tailor this type of advertising to accommodate the needs of bicultural Latino youth. An important focus of Kelly’s research is whether English, Spanish or Spanglish is most effective at delivering tobacco-prevention messages.  

"There is wide disagreement over which language would be most effective," Kelly said.  "Very little research has been done in this area and most of it has been done from a consumer rather than a public-health perspective."

Kelly’s study also will examine which tobacco-prevention theme – social norms against tobacco, negative health consequences of tobacco and tobacco-industry marketing tactics – is most appealing to bicultural youth.  

"Given the importance of family values in Latino culture and the protective effect of traditional Mexican values against smoking, we’re hypothesizing that ads based on social expectations to not smoke will have the strongest effect," said Kelly.

The study was developed by Kelly and co-investigators Gabriel Gonzalez, assistant professor of marketing, and Michael Slater, professor of journalism and technical communication at Colorado State. The researchers will work with 300 bilingual Mexican-American high school students in communities on the U.S./Mexico border to implement the study. An expert panel also has been assembled to ensure that ads are culturally relevant and appealing.

Findings from the study will provide research-based information for governmental entities regarding development of the most effective tobacco prevention materials for bicultural Latino youth. Tobacco-control efforts by schools, health departments, community coalitions, border health organizations and national organizations also will benefit from the results of this study.

The grant is Kelly’s second award from the RWJF Substance Abuse Policy Research Program, which supports policy research focused on alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. The previous award allowed Kelly and Slater to study the policy impacts of restricting alcohol and tobacco advertising and resulted in two publications in the "Journal of Public Policy & Marketing."

Based in Princeton, N.J., RWJF is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It concentrates its grant making in four goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to basic health care at reasonable cost; to improve care and support for people with chronic health conditions; to promote healthy communities and lifestyles; and to reduce the personal, social and economic harm caused by substance abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.