Tobacco-Free: UT System-Wide Health Communication

Tobacco-Free: UT System-Wide Health Communication

By Mike Mackert

For as long as I’ve been at The University of Texas at Austin, I’ve heard faculty lament the silos in which researchers often operate; this is true of any academic institution, of course. I consider myself immensely lucky to work in the field of health communication which by definition requires interdisciplinary collaboration. The launch of the Center for Health Communication (CHC) – now formally a part of both the Moody College of Communication and Dell Medical School – has only strengthened partnerships across campus.

One of the CHC’s ongoing projects has provided an opportunity not only to work with partners from different disciplines, but to work with colleagues from across the University of Texas System. The UT System Eliminate Tobacco Use Initiative is an effort of all fourteen UT System institutions to eliminate tobacco use on their campuses through efforts related to prevention, cessation, and policy.

The initiative leadership approached the CHC about developing a brand and message for tobacco control that could work for all 14 institutions – all of which were already doing a lot of excellent work on their own campuses. It was a daunting challenge, but an enticing one, given the opportunity to work with engaged colleagues from around the state to address tobacco use on their campuses.

In the first year of the project, the CHC developed a visual brand and visual identity (Tobacco-Free with a broken cigarette, along with a companion Vape-Free with a broken vape pen), sample materials, and a style guide for use of the brand and best practices in tobacco control communication. An article summarizing the work (“Building a Health Communication Brand for University of Texas System Tobacco Control”) is forthcoming at the Journal of American College Health.

The second year of the project is focused more on implementation, with the development of materials for social media, a webinar co-hosted by the CDC aimed at campus communication professionals to educate them about the project, and a redesign of the initiative website for both internal and external audiences. And we’re already plotting what the third year of the partnership might look like – exciting things are ahead.

Two things really stand out about this project… First, it shows how evidenced-based health communication can inform practice; it was also an opportunity to contribute back to the academic literature and share best practices with others working in the same field. And second, it was simply an exciting and fun chance to work with colleagues across UT System who are passionate about their work. I’m looking forward not just to next steps with this project, but all of our future opportunities to pursue similar partnerships with institutions across Texas and beyond.