University researchers receive major tobacco grants

Georgia State’s new School of Public Health announced last week that it has received a grant worth $19 million, the largest in university history, for researchers to study why people decide to use tobacco.

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Funded by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Health, the research will examine human economic behavior, consumer reaction to tobacco marketing and individual perception of risk of using novel tobacco products over the next five years.

The grant will also establish one of 14 national Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science, with the mission to generate research to inform the regulation of tobacco products to protect public health.

The program will connect researchers from Georgia State’s school of public health with many pre- and post-doctoral individuals from across the nation, including the University of Illinois at Chicago and RTI International.

Meanwhile, researcher and Georgia State professor Dr. Kimberley Sterling has received $275,000 for a separate study on tobacco-based, flavored little cigars and cigarillos (LCCs) like Black and Mild’s or Swisher Sweets, which are not regulated by FDA. She will be researching the effects of LCCs on on young adult smokers.

There is an abundant of reasons why LCCs are so popular in these communities, but Sterling says the main reason is due to the preconceived notion that little cigars and cigarillos are less harmful than cigarettes.

She went on to say that several of her family members, including close friends, are regular LCC smokers, most of them having smoked it before.

‘Many of them believe that smoking flavored LCCs is a safer alternative to cigarette smoking,” she said. “I wanted to understand how my family members, friends, and other young adult smokers developed perceptions of risk about flavored LCCs and how risk perceptions are related to flavored LCC consumption.”

Investigators from University of Hawaii-Manoa Cancer Center and the University of Maryland will accompany Sterling in her efforts to diagnose the risk of little cigars and cigarillos on young adults.

Her study warrants for help from the Food and Drug Administration, whom Sterling says should regulate little cigars and cigarillos.

They found that the combination of availability, low prices and the high rate of tobacco related deaths within the black community is evidence that tobacco companies are specifically marketing and targeting black young adults.

“Historically, the tobacco industries have preferentially marketed their products to specific subgroups and disenfranchised communities,” Dr. Sterling said. “Unfortunately, flavored LCCs are one of several tobacco products that are being targeted to young adults, particularly those from racial and ethnic minority groups.”

Although they have regulated the sale of flavored cigarettes, the FDA has yet to decide what it should do with LCCs, but, like Sterling, it is currently investigating the matter.

“Our study will provide evidence to the FDA that sheds light on how young adults form perceptions of risks about flavored LCCs and determines what factors are associated with uptake of LCC smoking among ethnically-diverse young adults” Dr. Sterling said.

Dr. Michael Eriksen, Dean of the School of Public Health, recently addressed the issue.

“The problem with college students is that they are fair game for the tobacco companies. You can go to a bar, and there could be someone in there employed by a tobacco company who will give you free cigarettes,” he said.

He added that the ads are colorful, attracting a youthful eye and conveniently placed near stores, attempting to persuade a purchase before students even enter the store.

“We are thrilled to have this tremendous opportunity to do more of what Georgia State does best—research that changes people’s lives,” Georgia State President Mark Becker said in a Sept. 19 news release.

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