AUSTIN, Texas Two University of Texas at Austin College of Education professors are among several scholars nationwide to receive funding from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study trends in young people’s tobacco use and the extent to which targeted marketing is contributing to an increase in use.
Health behavior and health education professors Alexandra Loukas and Keryn Pasch are part of the newly created Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science on Youth and Young Adults. The center, which is housed at the University of Texas School of Public Health (UTSPH) Austin Regional Campus, also includes collaborators at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Rutgers School of Public Health. The center is one of 14 Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science that are receiving a total of up to $53 million for tobacco-related research in fiscal year 2013.
Dr. Cheryl L. Perry of the UTSPH Austin Regional Campus has been named center director.
The FDA and NIH will use findings from the center’s research to inform regulation of tobacco products and protect public health. The research by Loukas and Pasch will strengthen the existing evidence base by offering much needed data on young adults’ tobacco use.
“This research will be of special importance to Texas because we rank 40th among the 50 states for funding of tobacco control activities,” said Loukas, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, “but we’re No. 1 the largest recipient among all states when it comes to tobacco industry marketing money spent. In 2010, the tobacco industry spent $586.4 million here.”
For the grant, Loukas and Pasch will examine tobacco use trends in students at four-year universities and two-year vocational programs in Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas, with a focus on trends in the use of non-cigarette alternatives such as e-cigarettes, hookah and dissolvable tobacco.
“Vocational students have higher rates of tobacco use than four-year students,” said Loukas. “This disparity in rates of use may be due to targeted tobacco marketing, but no one’s really taken a scientific look at this issue before.”
Pasch, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, will be gathering and examining marketing data for the center. She will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the marketing environment that college students are exposed to on a daily basis.
“Almost all initial use of and addiction to nicotine occurs prior to the age of 26,” said Loukas. “If someone starts using tobacco when young, it’s likely they’ll be adult users as well. This is why it’s so important to understand the factors that contribute to tobacco initiation and continuation among young people.”
For more information on the new Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science, read the FDA press release.