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Assessing Need and Interest

Assessing the need for and interest in a tobacco-free campus (TFC) initiative is the first phase in ensuring its success. This phase consists of the following steps:

Forming a TFC Committee

Form a committee to plan and conduct the needs assessment. Recruit committee members who have experience in communications and data collection, have access to the type of information you will need to collect, and have access to the people from whom you want input (e.g., management, unions). Involving labor unions early is critical to the success of the initiative.

The group will define the overall goal for the initiative and identify key stakeholders. This committee does not have to be formal or comprehensive until you have confirmed the need for and interest in a TFC initiative.

Assessing Management Interest

If management has already decided that a tobacco-free campus is a priority for your organization, then skip ahead to planning the needs assessment. Otherwise, securing management support for a TFC initiative should be a top priority.

Management support is one of the most often cited keys to successfully implementing a tobacco-free policy. In addition, management expectations often drive the development of tobacco-free policies and programs,1 so solicit management input early in the process on:

  • The appropriateness of a TFC initiative for your organization
  • Desired provisions of the policy, including enforcement
  • Options for offering expanded cessation services
  • Budgetary considerations for implementing the initiative

Provide management with the needs assessment data and other information to assist them in making TFC-related decisions. This could include factsheets on the health consequences of smoking [PDF-1.27Mb], the health consequences of secondhand smoke, the cost of tobacco use, and the health and economic benefits of a TFC.

Assessing Your Workplace

Assess the current situation. Determine whether there is an indoor smoke- or tobacco-free policy at your workplace. If so, research the provisions of the policy and assess whether employees comply with them. Review existing health assessment files, if appropriate, or conduct an employee survey to establish a baseline estimate of the number of employees who use tobacco. Before collecting employee input, obtain guidance from appropriate agency personnel to determine what approvals are needed. If you do not have access or the ability to assess employee tobacco use, CDC's State Data Highlights document provides state prevalence data that can be used as a baseline number.

Find out what tobacco use cessation services are available to your employees. In particular, consider the adequacy of current health insurance coverage available to employees for tobacco dependence treatment (medication and counseling) and any tobacco use cessation support services offered through your work site health promotion or human resources office. Determine whether there are data on the number of employees taking advantage of these services and their satisfaction with the current cessation support options.

At present, several companies that provide health insurance to federal employees through the Office of Personnel Management offer coverage for prescription medications and counseling. Federal employers might consider assessing the actual amount of coverage that is offered by their employees' plans and then promoting the services to employees.

If your employees are represented by a union, find out whether the existing contract addresses tobacco use in the workplace and how the collective bargaining process would affect development and enforcement of a TFC policy. Worker health and safety are key union concerns, so you may want to consider highlighting these aspects of the TFC initiative (e.g., access to expanded tobacco use cessation services, a work environment that supports healthy choices, the ways in which employee smoking can interact with certain occupational chemical exposures to compound health risks, increased employee protections from secondhand smoke in outdoor settings.)2

If your property is leased, determine whether there are contractual limitations to the policies you can establish.

Lastly, review relevant state and local laws or regulations on tobacco use in the workplace and research how other businesses and agencies in your area approach this issue.1 Your state health department may be able to offer additional local resources.

Gathering Input

Solicit input from union leaders, employee representatives, and other employees (including smokers, former smokers, smokeless tobacco users, and nonusers). Be responsive to this input and use it in the development and implementation of the new policy provisions and expanded cessation services. Assessing employees' and labor unions' attitudes toward the current and proposed policy and cessation services will help you:

  • Gauge their level of readiness to accept a TFC policy
  • Identify potential opportunities to build support for implementing a TFC initiative
  • Identify potential barriers to implementing a TFC initiative and possible ways to address these barriers
  • Prioritize the types of tobacco use cessation services that will be offered based on expressed interest and health plan coverage
  • Determine the level of education needed on the health effects of tobacco use and the benefits of the planned policy
  • Gauge the appropriate tone for TFC initiative communication materials
  • Identify preferred communication channels for information about the TFC initiative
  • Determine whether low-literacy or culturally specific materials are needed

Consider collecting this information formally or informally through committee meetings, work groups, task forces, surveys, focus groups, or "town hall" meetings. Before collecting employee input, obtain guidance from appropriate agency experts to help determine what approvals are needed. For example, federal agencies are subject to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regulations and will experience a long lead time if OMB approval is needed. Similarly, if your assessment is part of a research project, check with the appropriate institutional review board (IRB) to determine whether IRB approval is needed. Each agency or company should work with its own internal policy and legal staff to develop appropriate guidelines and procedures for gathering employee input.

Next Steps

After collecting enough information to confirm the need for and interest in a TFC initiative, begin the planning phase.

Other Helpful Information


1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Making Your Workplace Smokefree: A Decision Maker’s Guide.

2Organized Labor and Tobacco Control Network. (2005). Reducing Smoking at the Worksite Among Blue-Collar Manufacturing Workers — The WellWorks Approach.

3Sorensen G, Stoddard AM, LaMontagne AD, Emmons K, Hunt MK, Youngstrom R, McLellan D, Christiani DC. A comprehensive worksite cancer prevention intervention: Behavior change results from a randomized controlled trial (United States). Cancer Causes and Control 2002;13:493–502.

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