VCU’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products receives nearly $20 million grant

Photo by Myles Francisco

Logan Reardon, Staff Writer

The Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at VCU received a nearly $20 million grant for a five-year project focused on predicting the outcomes of government regulations on tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes.

The grant was awarded by the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products.

Michael Southam-Gerow, chair and director of graduate studies in the Department of Psychology, said the grant helps CSTP have an impact on public health around the world.

“The Center for the Study of Tobacco Products is already a world leader in helping policymakers and the public understand how emerging tobacco products work on the body and what their longer-term impacts are on physical and behavioral health,” Southam-Gerow said. “The new project lets them continue and expand on this work.”

CSTP is one of nine Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science across the country that provide research to the FDA in efforts to ensure U.S. tobacco regulations are supported by scientific evidence.

CSTP director and VCU psychology professor Thomas Eissenberg said the goal of the study is to give the FDA tools to predict whether certain tobacco-related regulations would be helpful and if they have unintended consequences.

“We’re trying to inform regulations that protect the health of nonsmokers who might be encouraged by marketing to try electronic cigarettes or other tobacco products,” Eissenberg said. “And also protect the health of smokers by making sure that if they were to use an electronic cigarette in an attempt to get off tobacco cigarettes, that they’re not using something that is also harmful to their health.”

The illegal sale of e-cigarette products to minors has been a major part in the FDA’s push for further regulation. Although the FDA’s data shows an overall decline in tobacco use among teenagers between 2011 and 2017, e-cigarette usage surged from 1.5 percent to 11.7 percent in the same time span.

According to Alison Breland, co-principal investigator for the grant and assistant research professor in the Department of Psychology, this project’s goal is to help the FDA find regulations that protect public health and decrease teen e-cigarette use.

In 2013, CSTP received a five-year, $18.3 million grant to create evaluation methods to help inform regulatory policy for tobacco products.

According to Montserrat Fuentes, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences, the 2013 grant “provided numerous opportunities to VCU students for engagement in experiential learning while applying their knowledge to significant social problems.”

The FDA announced Sept. 14 that Juul and other e-cigarette companies must provide ways to keep these products out of minor’s hands. If these companies do not comply within the 60 days, they could be forced to take flavored e-cigarette products off the market.

VCU junior Ryan Carter — who occasionally uses an e-cigarette  — said there could be more effective options to the rising use of e-cigarettes in teens.

“I think there might be a way to take it down by levels,” Carter said. “It might be what’s necessary, but I don’t think it’s what would be the best decision.”

Carter also said although he hasn’t seen the numbers yet, he thinks minor usage of e-cigarettes right now is not as much of a problem as people might think.

“It might be a growing problem, but for now I think we’re good,” Carter said.

According to a press release by VCU Public Affairs, the new grant does not include taxpayer money. The funding comes from an FDA law requiring tobacco companies to provide money to support regulatory action.

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