Using the Theory of Planned Behavior to Guide Focus Group Development of Messages Aimed at Increasing Compliance With a Tobacco-Free Policy

Rachael A. Record, Nancy G. Harrington, Donald W. Helme, Matthew W. Savage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study details the persuasive message development for a theory-based campaign designed to increase compliance with a university’s tobacco-free policy. Approach: The theory of planned behavior (TPB) guided message design and evaluation for focus group–tested messages that were adapted to the context of complying with a tobacco-free policy. Setting: The study was conducted at a university located in the tobacco belt. Participants: Undergraduate focus group participants (n = 65) were mostly male (69%), white (82%), and freshman (62%) who smoked at least 1 cigarette in the last 30 days; on-campus smoking percentages were never/rare (60%), occasionally (23%), and often/frequently (16%). Method: Data analysis used a theoretical thematic approach to identify how the TPB constructs related to perceptions of message effectiveness. Results: Participants responded favorably to attitudinal strategies about health, respect, and university figures; they rejected approaches they considered juvenile and offensive. They also discussed the impact of noncompliance and avoiding overgeneralized statements for addressing subjective norms, suggesting shortening text, adjusting picture location, and emphasizing the importance of compliance to increase perceptions of behavioral control. Conclusion: Applying theory to preexisting messages is challenging. The design approach in this study is an evidence-based strategy that can be used as a universal process for message adaptation. Results offer health promotion suggestions for designing messages aimed at improving undergraduate smokers’ willingness to comply with tobacco-free campus policies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-152
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Health Promotion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This publication was supported by the departments of Public Safety and Communication at the University of Kentucky.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2017.


  • message design
  • policy compliance
  • theory of planned behavior
  • tobacco-free

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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