News & Features

An ashtray with cigarettes sits on a gray floor.

KCH, IHSI researchers take lead on Illinois Youth Tobacco Survey


Eight years have passed since comprehensive data was collected on the tobacco use and smoking habits of Illinois teenagers. But scientific minds are back on the issue once again, with University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers at the helm. 

Two Kinesiology and Community Health faculty are set to receive $650,000 to administer and report the Centers for Disease Control’s Illinois Youth Tobacco Survey this academic year, conducting essential research on tobacco use among thousands of Illinois middle and high schoolers. 

In partnership with the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute on campus, KCH Assistant Professor Sarah Geiger will lead the survey as principal investigator, along with co-investigator Professor Pedro Hallal, director of the Master of Public Health program at the College of Applied Health Sciences. 

“It’s been too long, in our opinion, without telling what’s going on in Illinois with youth smoking, vaping, hookah, all of those things related to tobacco,” Geiger said. “Think about how much has changed in 10 years in terms of youth culture and vaping, and everything tobacco related.”

The CDC runs the National Youth Tobacco Survey on an annual basis, surveying teenagers across the United States on their smoking and tobacco habits. State health departments can conduct their own versions of the survey if funding is available. 

Illinois last funded its own youth tobacco survey in 2015, contracting out-of-state to do so, Geiger said. For the first time, the University of Illinois will lead the project, with funding from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

In spring 2024, the research team plans to send out digital surveys to teenagers in 50 middle schools and 75 high schools, randomly selected within Illinois. Their ideal target: 7,500 respondents. 

Since 2014, e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among young people, according to the CDC. In 2022, more than 4 in 100 middle schoolers and about 1 in 6 high schoolers reported current use of a tobacco product. 

The Illinois survey is being constructed with core items from the national form, along with more state-specific inquiries. The previous Illinois Youth Tobacco Survey found children with asthma had higher rates of tobacco use than those without; this iteration of the survey will contain an “asthma module” to gather more in-depth data. 

“The landscape for youth tobacco use has changed. I’m glad we’re implementing questions specifically related to vaping and asthma,” said Max Wallace, program coordinator for IHSI who will serve as the project’s field coordinator. “Asthma is so prevalent among youth in the United States, so I think it’s really important we’re incorporating these questions.”

The hope among investigators is a successful youth tobacco survey will lead to a more regular occurrence in Illinois, with the U. of I. staying in the driver’s seat. 

“For us, it’s like a capacity building exercise as well,” Hallal said. “We’ll be able to gain expertise and become the primary option for them to conduct this survey.”

A sizable portion of the project’s budget is set aside for graduate students to assist with the data collection and analysis. More opportunities will come indirectly, Hallal said, from subsequent research analyses of the completed survey data.  

“This will generate a lot of fantastic data,” Geiger said. “This is a big ask to put this all together. Having the funding helps, but that's not the full picture. You have to have the expertise; you have to have the will from different units to be able to put this all together.

“I'm proud of U of I for having the people within the organization who had the wherewithal to go. ‘Let's figure this out and let's make it happen to at least to be considered for this opportunity.’”

back to news