Two professors at University of Texas at Austin College of Education have received research funding to study trends in young people’s tobacco use, and to determine how effective today’s targeted marketing is at influencing that demographic to take up smoking. Dr. Alexandra Loukas and Dr. Keryn Pasch, will conduct the research at The Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science on Youth and Young Adults (TCORS), one of 14 such centers crested by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which have jointly awarded a total of up to $53 million to fund tobacco-related research in fiscal year 2013 to set up across the country.
The FDA and NIH note that despite decades of effort to reduce tobacco use in the United States, it continues to be the country’s leading cause of preventable death and disease.
“While we’ve made tremendous strides in reducing the use of tobacco products in the U.S., smoking still accounts for one in five deaths each year, which is far too many,” says NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “FDA/NIH partnerships like the Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science keep us focused on reducing the burden and devastation of preventable disease caused by tobacco use.” As a new, first-of-its-kind regulatory science tobacco program, TCORS is designed to generate research to inform the regulation of tobacco products to protect public health. Using designated funds from FDA, TCORS will be coordinated by NIH’s Office of Disease Prevention, directed by David M. Murray, Ph.D., and administered by three NIH institutes— the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
“For the first time, under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the federal government, through the FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), is able to bring science-based regulation to the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of tobacco products,” says FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses the complex public health issues raised by tobacco product regulation.” The agency is establishing science and research programs designed to increase understanding of the risks associated with tobacco use.
The TCORS program brings together investigators from across the country to aid in the development and evaluation of tobacco product regulations. Each TCORS application identified a targeted research goal. Taken together, the TCORS sites will increase knowledge across the full spectrum of basic and applied research on tobacco and addiction. The program also provides young investigators with training opportunities to ensure the development of the next generation of tobacco regulatory scientists.
The TCORS awards represent a significant investment in federal tobacco regulatory science, including $53 million in the first year and a potential total of more than $273 million over the next five years. TCORS funding may not exceed $4 million in total costs per year per center, and an investigator could request a project period of up to five years.
Designed to generate vital research in seven core areas, as well as ensure innovation in the field, the research supported by this initiative will provide scientific evidence within the following seven FDA tobacco-related research interest areas:
• Diversity of tobacco products
• Reducing addiction
• Reducing toxicity and carcinogenicity
• Adverse health consequences
• Marketing of tobacco products
• Economics and policies.
TCORS proposals were selected for funding based on their scientific and technical merit as determined by NIH scientific peer review, availability of funds, and relevance of the proposed projects to program priorities. The N.I.H. official website notes that the process of awarding grants to applicants usually takes nine to ten months.
Two of the TCORS grants have been to researchers in Texas, Dr. Cheryl L. Perry, Ph.D., at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, Houston, and Aruni Bhatnagar, Ph.D., and Rose M. Robertson, M.D. of the American Heart Association, Dallas. the center under the directorship of Dr. Perry, who is Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living Professor and Austin Regional Dean, and Rockwell Distinguished Chair in Society and Health, is affiliated with UT’s school of public health will be working with Drs. Loukas and Pasch on their research.
Dr. Cheryl L Perry is best known for her work in smoking prevention research. She has authored more than 300 peer-reviewed articles, multiple chapters and books, most of which focus on health promotion and prevention programs, and has been recognized as one of the Most Highly Cited Researchers (top 0.5%) in Social Sciences. She is also senior scientific editor of the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report: “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People: An Update.” Dr. Perry was also an expert scientific witness for the state of Minnesota in the Tobacco Master Settlement lawsuits of the 1990s, and an investigator for the initial CATCH study and developed the school-based alcohol and tobacco prevention program, Project Northland.
The central focus of Dr. Loukas’s research is to decrease problem behaviors and tobacco use in adolescents and young adults, with a particular focus on disparate populations. She has a special interest in examining how factors from multiple ecological levels (e.g., family, school, culture) interact to protect youth from negative health outcomes, and is currently conducting studies examining; 1) the feasibility of a web-based tailored tobacco cessation program for students enrolled in post-secondary vocational programs, and 2) the concurrent use of cigarettes with alternative tobacco products by adolescents and young adults. Dr. Loukas also works with the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program at the Texas Department of State Health Services to conduct a variety of community-based program development and evaluation projects.
Keryn E. Pasch, M.P.H., Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas, Austin, whose research program focuses on the influence of media on youth risk behaviors as well as the factors that may alter the influence of advertising. Her research also focuses on how risk behaviors, including substance use, obesity-related behaviors, sleep, and energy drink consumption, may co-occur among youth and developing preventive interventions to address these behaviors.
The 2010 Surgeon General’s Report concludes there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. “Any exposure to tobacco smoke – even an occasional cigarette or exposure to secondhand smoke – is harmful.” Cigarette use has long been known to be a primary cause of lung cancer but the list of other diseases attributed to or aggravated by tobacco use continues to grow as the body of research into the health impacts of tobacco use expands. The list of related conditions now includes but is not limited to oral cancer, heart disease, emphysema, myeloid leukemia, Buerger’s disease, cataracts, cervical cancer, kidney and pancreatic cancer, pneumonia, periodontitis and stomach cancer. In addition to the human toll of tobacco use, there is also a financial burden to the state of Texas including:
• $5.83 billion annual healthcare expenditures due to tobacco use
• $1.6 billion State Medicaid expenditures due to tobacco use
• $317.6 million annual healthcare expenditures due to secondhand smoke
• $6.44 billion productivity losses due to death
According to a 2011 survey taken as a part of a University of Michigan project called “Monitoring the Future”, nearly 40 percent of high school seniors in the nation have tried smoking tobacco. In addition, the CDC currently reports on its official website that
“concurrent use of multiple tobacco products is prevalent among youth.”
Monitoring the Future is an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students, college students, and young adults. Each year, a total of approximately 50,000 8th, 10th and 12th grade students are surveyed (12th graders since 1975, and 8th and 10th graders since 1991). In addition, annual follow-up questionnaires are mailed to a sample of each graduating class for a number of years after their initial participation. The Monitoring the Future Study has been funded under a series of investigator-initiated competing research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a part of the http://www.nih.gov/hNational Institutes of Health. MTF is conducted at the
Survey Research Center in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan
In this video, NIDA personnel discuss findings from the 2012 Monitoring the Future survey.
UT Austin is a logical place for such research to be conducted, since on April 9, 2012 it became a tobacco-free campus. The use of any tobacco products is prohibited in university buildings and on university grounds within the state of Texas, including parking areas and structures, sidewalks, walkways, and university owned buildings.
In a release, UT Austin explains that a Tobacco-free Campus policy is part of the university’s commitment to creating a healthy and sustainable environment for all members of our campus community, and is designed to be positive and health directed. Individuals noticing violations of the policy are advised to be non-confrontational and respectful to tobacco users when communicating the university policy. Additionally, tobacco users are expected to adhere to the policy and likewise be respectful to ex-tobacco users and non-tobacco users. Enforcement of the policy is to be be achieved primarily through education, awareness and a spirit of cooperation. Members of the University community are empowered to respectfully inform others about the policy in an ongoing effort to enhance awareness of and encourage compliance with this policy.
The university is not requiring faculty, staff and students to quit using tobacco products, but the school does expect the policy to be followed while on university property, and are offering support to students and employees who wish to stop using tobacco products.
The path to becoming tobacco-free first began when the University of Texas at Austin adopted a Non-smoking policy in 1991 that banned smoking in all university buildings. In 2002, the Non-smoking policy was expanded to ban smoking within 20 feet of building entrances, open windows, ventilation systems, and indoor or open-air athletic facilities including the Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium, Disch-Falk Field and the Frank C. Erwin Center.
In 2011, a survey of the UT Austin community endorsed by Texas Public Health found that 77 percent of the 1,551 respondents supported a change that would further restrict smoking on campus. In that same year, the university Student Government passed a resolution to create a tobacco-free campus. The decision to expand to a tobacco-free campus was the next logical step in our pursuit of a campus culture of wellness. In addition, the American College Health Association Guidelines now advocate for a campus-wide tobacco-free environment.
However, the impetus for accelerating the no-smoking policy decision came in February 2012, when the Cancer Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced that future funding of research would be contingent on certification of an entity’s adopted tobacco-free policies. The university is a recipient of CPRIT funds for important cancer research activities and the preservation of those funds as a premier research institution is imperative to its research mission.
The university says that According to recent research, the following benefits have been attributed to the implementation of tobacco-free policies:
• Decrease smoking initiation among young adults
• Decrease progression to established smoking
• Increase the probability of young adult smoking cessation
• Promote a tobacco free norm which can influence adult smoking behavior
• Lead to less smoking among adults in the workplace
• Employees who work in workplaces with smoke or tobacco-free policies are almost twice as likely to stop using tobacco as those who work where tobacco use is allowed
• Other benefits of a tobacco-free policy include a reduction in fire hazards and cleaner grounds and air that support our university sustainability efforts.
There is a FAQ page on the policy here
A policy committee was formed to research our options for becoming compliant with future CPRIT requests for proposals and to draft a policy for UT System approval. After meeting with stakeholder representatives across campus, the policy was created and subsequently approved by UT System on April 9, 2012.
For full details of UT Austin’s tobacco-free campus policy, visit
Featured Photo from http://www.neontommy.com, other photos from UT Austin