Validity of Recall of Tobacco Use in Two Prospective Cohorts


Janet Brigham, Christina N. Lessov-Schlaggar, Harold S. Javitz, Ruth E. Krasnow, Elizabeth Tildesley, Judy Andrews, Hyman Hops, Marie D. Cornelius, Nancy L. Day, Mary McElroy, Gary E. Swan, Validity of Recall of Tobacco Use in Two Prospective Cohorts, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 172, Issue 7, 1 October 2010, Pages 828–835,


This project studied the convergent validity of current recall of tobacco-related health behaviors, compared with prospective self-report collected earlier at two sites. Cohorts were from the Oregon Research Institute at Eugene (N = 346, collected 19.5 years earlier) and the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (N = 294, collected 3.9 years earlier). Current recall was examined through computer-assisted interviews with the Lifetime Tobacco Use Questionnaire from 2005 through 2008. Convergent validity estimates demonstrated variability. Validity estimates of some tobacco use measures were significant for Oregon subjects (age at first cigarette, number of cigarettes/day, quit attempts yes/no and number of attempts, and abstinence symptoms at quitting; all P < 0.03). Validity estimates of Pittsburgh subjects’ self-reports of tobacco use and abstinence symptoms were significant (P < 0.001) for all tobacco use and abstinence symptoms and for responses to initial use of tobacco. These findings support the utility of collecting recalled self-report information for reconstructing salient lifetime health behaviors and underscore the need for careful interpretation.

Keywords: data collection, mental recall, prospective studies, reproducibility of results, retrospective studies, tobacco use disorder

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