Enforcing the smoking ban

The following is a sample Paper 3 that looks at a quasi-experiment which could also be considered a natural experiment. Below you will first find the stimulus piece, followed by the static questions.  A copy of the mock paper is included to give students as an in-class assessment.

Potential answers are included in the hidden boxes below.

Student copy

Stimulus piece

The following study by Hyland et al (2009) is a quasi-experiment using a longitudinal telephone survey of nationally representative samples of smokers and non-smokers aged 18 years or older in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The aim of the study was to evaluate how Scotland's smoking ban impacted the lives of the average person in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, where these laws were not yet in place. The goal was to look at exposure to secondhand smoke, attitudes toward the smoking ban and frequency of going to pubs and restaurants.

The study carried out a telephone survey with a sample of 705 Scottish smokers and 417 non-smokers. In addition, surveys were carried out with 1027 smokers and 447 non-smokers in the rest of the UK where smoking in public places was not regulated at the time. Respondents were recruited by telephone numbers selected at random from the population of each country with the goal of representing all geographic districts.

Respondents were interviewed before the Scottish law (February to March 2006) and 1 year later after the law (March 2007).

The results showed a significant decline in smoking in pubs, restaurants and workplaces compared to the UK. In addition, support for the smoking ban increased to a greater extent in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. Although the self-reported frequency of going to pubs and restaurants was similar in Scotland and the rest of the UK, non-smokers in Scotland showed a significant increase in their frequency of going to pubs. There was no clear difference in smoking cessation observed - although this could be due to the length of the study. One year may not have been enough time to notice such effects of the law.

The researchers concluded that the Scottish smoking ban has been successful in decreasing secondhand smoke exposure while at the same time having no significant negative effect on pubs and restaurants.

Hyland, A., Hassan, L. M., Higbee, C., Boudreau, C., Fong, G. T., Borland, R., . . . Hastings, G. (2009). The impact of smoke-free legislation in Scotland: Results from the Scottish ITC Scotland/UK longitudinal surveys. The European Journal of Public Health, 19(2), 198-205. doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckn141

Questions

1a. Identify the method used and outline two characteristics of the method.

The researchers used a quasi-experimental method. This means that although there was an independent variable, it was not manipulated by the researcher.  In this, the IV was the imposition of the smoking ban.  One group (Scotland) had the IV and the other group (UK) served as the control.  As the place where one lived determined the group they were in, the participants could not be randomly allocated to conditions.  This is a second characteristic of quasi-experiments.

1b. Describe the sampling method used in the study.

The sample is a geographically stratified sample.  Each geographic district in Scotland and the rest of the UK was represented.  From each district telephone numbers were randomly selected to be in the study. This may have been done by a random number generator or by pulling phone numbers out of a hat. As the numbers were randomly selected, this increases the probability that the sample is representative and thus the results may be generalized to the population from which the sample was drawn.

1c. Suggest an alternative or additional research method giving one reason for your choice.

An alternative measure would be to carry out focus group interviews prior to the smoking ban and then again a year later. The face to face experience, as well as being part of a group, is more natural than a phone interview and may result in more trust of the researcher, and potentially more "honest" responses.  It also would allow the participants to interact with each other.  This would potentially lead to responses which an individual might not think of in a phone survey - or it may also legitimize their own thoughts and give them the "permission" to share ideas that may be perceived as politically incorrect or socially undesirable.

2. Describe the ethical considerations that were applied in the study and explain if further ethical considerations could be applied.

Since the study was a phone survey, the researchers would have to obtain informed consent in order to carry out their research.  They would have to inform the participants about the nature of the study, how the results would be used and their rights as participants, including the right to withdraw from the study at any time.  The researchers would also have to guarantee that their personal information would not be revealed in any publication and that their results would be anonymized. It would be important that the researchers debrief the participants about the study, sharing their findings. This also allows the participants to ask any questions, and if they feel that they would like to withdraw their data, there is an opportunity to do so.

3. To what extent could you generalize the findings of this study?

As the sample was randomly selected from each geographic division of the two areas of the UK - and the sample size was relatively large - it can be assumed that the sample is representative of the population.  This means that we can generalize to the larger population of both Scotland and the rest of the UK.  However, it would be difficult to generalize the findings to other populations. Cultural dimensions such as power distance, socioeconomic status and accessibility of cigarettes could all be variables which may affect the effectiveness of a smoking ban in a different country.  Although you could generalize cautiously to other countries, it would be best to look at studies of other countries.  If there are several studies from different countries with the same results (which there are), then we can generalize the findings more confidently about smoking bans in general.
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