36758 Aligning Grassroots & Digital Efforts to Driving Voluntary Policy Change

Megan Flynn, BA, Kristin Carroll, BA and Joel Brubaker, BA, Rescue Social Change Group, San Diego, CA


In Oklahoma, smoking in bars is the norm and legislative policy change has proven difficult. Despite this, a small number of bars have voluntarily chosen to go smokefree. This shift presents an opportunity to foster a groundswell of consumer-driven change in addition to ongoing legislative efforts.

Program background:  Launched in 2013, Free The Night (FTN) is a statewide campaign funded by the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust to encourage bars to voluntarily adopt smokefree policies. The campaign utilizes a blend of digital and grassroots strategies to build momentum statewide, drive coordinated and frequent online and offline volunteer action, and recognize smokefree bars to shift public perception and incentivize smoking bars to go smokefree.

Evaluation Methods and Results: 

The FTN campaign recognizes bars that have adopted smokefree policies through print advertising, web advertising, and positive publicity – incentivizing others to follow suit. Regular promotion of smokefree bars also helps normalize smokefree indoor policies.  

FTN maintains a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter to grow the base of supporters and drive them to action when a bar goes smokefree, and to help encourage a potential bar to go smokefree. By using social media, FTN is able to move supporters up the ladder of engagement until they are interested in attending an advocacy event, helping the campaign organize and coordinate across multiple cities and locations. Additionally, handwritten messages of support from residents across Oklahoma are collected during events held in the community, and used both offline and online to showcase the many reasons Oklahomans prefer smokefree bars. FTN hosts events to recognize a bar’s decision to go smokefree. These events, called Club By Storm, encourage supporters to show up in large numbers on a single day and patronize smokefree establishments, showcasing a direct benefit of going smokefree. Supporters are also notified when a bar goes smokefree near them, so they can show their support throughout the year. The FTN website also serves as a tool to help supporters share information about the campaign and locate smokefree establishments near them. Since the campaign’s inception, FTN has grown to 2,080 combined followers across Facebook and Twitter. Facebook posts recognizing smokefree bars and clubs have reached 9,169 people and generated 1,785 actions such as likes, comments, shares, and clicks. The email list of dedicated supporters has grown to 142 with an exceptionally high open rate of 25.7%. For each smokefree event, promoted posts are used that reach 300 – 500 people per event, driving 20 – 50 additional patrons to the now smokefree bar.

Conclusions:  Digital strategies can be utilized to effectively drive frequent and coordinated online and offline action, creating a statewide movement with few staff resources required. A blend of digital and on-the-ground grassroots strategies can help normalize desired behaviors (such as smokefree bars) and ultimately drive voluntary policy change.

Implications for research and/or practice:  By developing an integrated campaign with clear objectives and standardized measures of progress, public health professionals can create a consumer-driven movement in support of and providing impetus for voluntary policies statewide.