Background: The Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health (CATCH) is a multistate field trial examining the effects of school environment, classroom curricula, and family intervention components in promoting the cardiovascular health of elementary school students. The purpose of this paper is to describe the CATCH tobacco use intervention and measurement, including the adoption of tobacco-free school policies.
Methods: In this study, changes in school tobacco use policies and smoking experimentation among students were assessed. Smoking experimentation was measured in all CATCH schools when the students were in their fifth-grade year. A total of 6,527 subjects in 96 schools in California, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas answered questions about behaviors and potential correlates of smoking as part of the CATCH health behavior questionnaire in Spring 1994. School tobacco use policy, an important complement to classroom- and home-based prevention efforts, was promoted as part of the CATCH intervention. The degree to which such policy was implemented was measured using surveys of school officials.
Results: At the end of fifth grade, only 4.8% of the subjects indicated that they had experimented with tobacco. School intervention condition was not a factor in the prediction of experimentation. Those whose best friend or sibling smoked, or who had ready access to cigarettes in the home, were more likely to have experimented with smoking. In the 3 years of the study, the percentages of tobacco-free schools went up from 49.7 to 76.8%. Though differences in the rate of policy adoption could not be directly attributed to the CATCH intervention, the implementation of the tobacco-free schools' policies did vary substantially from state to state. Minnesota and Texas, with stronger state laws supporting local policy, had nearly completely smoke-free schools. In spite of a statewide tobacco control initiative, California was slower to implement school policies. Louisiana, which allows local decision making regarding smoking policy, had the most difficulty establishing a policy for all districts.
Conclusion: Future studies should examine the impact of parallel policy interventions that are ongoing at both school and state levels. Tobacco-free policies appear to be a crucial part of school-based interventions and must be tailored to political and regional factors affecting a given school district.