Person holding a cigarette and e-cigarette.

Questions from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), managed by RTI since 2007, are now available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help researchers study the role of tobacco in communicable disease outbreak investigations, including COVID-19.

In a recent “Dear Colleague” message on Smoking and Health, the CDC offered six survey questions that can be integrated into epidemiological case investigations to gain a better understanding about persons at risk of contracting a disease or developing severe complications.

“Cigarette smoking can suppress the immune system and cause heart and lung diseases,” according to the CDC. “A person who smokes tobacco products may be at greater risk for, and may have a harder time recovering from, respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19.”

The available measures the message cited are:

  • Current tobacco smokers (daily/less than daily)
  • Former tobacco smokers (daily/less than daily)
  • Current cigarette (or other smoking tobacco product) smokers
  • Cigarettes (or other smoking tobacco product) smoked per day
  • Age of tobacco smoking initiation
  • Duration of tobacco smoking
  • Current electronic cigarette users (daily/less than daily)

“CDC is offering these questions as models for future COVID work, so that data collected on tobacco use is consistent across surveys,” according to Steve Litavecz, who leads the GATS project at RTI. “GATS measures are in line with World Health Organization indicators as well.” 

One of four surveys that are part of the Global Tobacco Surveillance System, GATS was developed in 2007 to begin a process for standardized global adult monitoring with the intent to generate internationally comparable data. GATS findings provide countries with data that can be used to better inform the design, implementation, and evaluation of tobacco intervention efforts.

RTI worked in collaboration with WHO and CDC to provide technical assistance for the design and implementation of the GATS standard process and protocol, which collects household-level tobacco use data on individuals aged 15 years and older in low- and middle-income countries. This included providing a software platform for collecting survey data on a variety of mobile devices, including Android tablets.

In the 27 countries that have released GATS data to date, approximately 4,600 fieldworkers have been trained and supplied with handheld and laptop computers. They have completed more than 400,000 household screening interviews, using a total of 1,800 survey questions in more than 50 languages and dialects.

More information on the CDC’s global tobacco activities is available at: