Retrospectively collected data about the development and maintenance of behaviors that impact health are a valuable source of information. Establishing the reliability of retrospective measures is a necessary step in determining the utility of that methodology and in studying behaviors in the context of risk and protective factors.
The goal of this study was to examine the reliability of self-report of a specific health-affecting behavior, tobacco use, and its associated risk and protective factors as examined with a Web-based questionnaire.
Core tobacco use and risk behavior questions in the Lifetime Tobacco Use Questionnaire—a closed, invitation-only, password-controlled, Web-based instrument—were administered at a 2-month test-retest interval to a convenience sample of 1229 respondents aged 18 to 78 years. Tobacco use items, which covered cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and pipe tobacco, included frequency of use, amount used, first use, and a pack-years calculation. Risk-related questions included family history of tobacco use, secondhand smoke exposure, alcohol use, and religiosity.
Analyses of test-retest reliability indicated modest (.30 to .49), moderate (.50 to .69), or high (.70 to 1.00) reliability across nearly all questions, with minimal reliability differences in analyses by sex, age, and income grouping. Most measures of tobacco use history showed moderate to high reliability, particularly for age of first use, age of first weekly and first daily smoking, and age at first or only quit attempt. Some measures of family tobacco use history, secondhand smoke exposure, alcohol use, and religiosity also had high test-retest reliability. Reliability was modest for subjective response to first use.
The findings reflect the stability of retrospective recall of tobacco use and risk factor self-report responses in a Web-questionnaire context. Questions that are designed and tested with psychometric scrutiny can yield reliable results in a Web setting.