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Qualitative Research for Tobacco Control: A How-to Introductory Manual for Researchers and Development Practitioners

Alison Mathie and Anne Carnozzi

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This manual is designed to encourage users from around the world to engage in tobacco control research using qualitative methods and tools. The objective is to expand the body of knowledge that can influence tobacco control policies and programs. In addition, the manual is intended to serve consumers of qualitative research by helping them critically assess the utility of qualitative data for policymaking and programing purposes.

The tobacco epidemic is one of the leading preventable causes of death and disability among adults in the world today. Once largely a problem in high-income countries, the epidemic caused by tobacco use has become an enormous and growing problem in many low- and middle-income countries. Already, half of all global deaths from tobacco occur in these countries. By 2030, that proportion will have risen to 70% of all tobacco-related deaths. This trend is exacerbated by the fact that many people still underestimate the harm to health that tobacco causes while overestimating its economic importance. As a result, many governments have not yet adopted or implemented strong policies to discourage tobacco use. If this trend is to be reversed, country-specific research is essential for generating the data necessary to convince policymakers to take action and to guide them in shaping policy that will have local impact.

While qualitative research has much to offer the field of tobacco control, it is often neglected in favour of quantitative research. Sometimes this is due to lack of experience in qualitative research; in other cases, it is because policymakers and program planners do not always know how to make maximum use of qualitative data for tobacco control. Understandably, many policymakers need statistical evidence to make policy decisions and design programs. Yet a combination of qualitative and quantitative data can often be extremely useful in developing policies and programs that will be effective, efficient, and lasting. The examples in this manual will help health professionals, economists, program planners, and others to appreciate more deeply the potential benefits of strengthening the foundation of tobacco control with qualitative research.