Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 4 - February 2011
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Ontario Tobacco Research Unit launches online portal

If you are a researcher, public health professional, policy maker, analyst or decision maker in the need of timely, solid information on key tobacco control indicators, the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit (OTRU) has established an online portal to help you find what you are looking for.

The Tobacco Informatics Monitoring System (TIMS), launched in August, was developed by OTRU’s Shawn O’Connor, Senior Research Associate, and designed with the help of Anne Philipneri, Research Officer. TIMS is an innovative web-based application designed to provide easy access to reliable, up-to-date data on key tobacco control indicators, such as rates of current smoking, quitting behaviour, lifetime abstinence from smoking and workplace exposure to second-hand smoke.

“The data handling and integration capabilities of TIMS will support a ‘big picture’ view of the burden of tobacco use and the successes of tobacco control,” according to O’Connor.  “Some of the key components of the application include the capability to search hundreds of key indicators organized under familiar tobacco control topics such as current smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke at work, attitudes toward the tobacco industry and more; customize your results by population of interest or level of geography — age, sex, education, occupation or income; or on a national basis, within Ontario, another specific health region or Tobacco Control Area Networks.”

Other key components include the potential to select data from key national and provincial sources like the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (CTUMS), the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) or Census of Canada; choose multiple display options — tables, bar and line graphs or maps; and use results for reports and presentations — print or download your findings using the TIMS toolbar.

The raw data available to TIMS is typically released by its owners (like Statistics Canada or Health Canada) to the research community several weeks to several months after the preliminary results are announced in the media. OTRU aims to incorporate this new data into the TIMS portal within weeks of receiving it.

Some data on specific regions may not be available as, at this point, TIMS primarily houses Ontario data, which is a reflection of its major source of funding (the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport). Moreover, some national surveys have optional components that particular regions may opt out of.

The site also includes a training component for an individual or organization interested in using TIMS, which is accessible by contacting the site administrator.

Plans to improve the website include showcasing TIMS at various public health conferences in the coming year, as well as other initiatives like “adding historic data, expanding data sources and creating a sister site, in collaboration with Robert Schwartz, Director of Evaluation and Monitoring at OTRU, that houses chronic disease indicators,” said O’Connor.

– by Joe Strizzi

For more information, please visit the TIMS website at http://tims.otru.org