Record Number of Abstracts by Milken Institute School of Public Health Faculty and Students at This Year’s National SRNT Meeting on Tobacco Control

Do teenagers watching video online see more ads pushing tobacco products? Do stores selling cigarettes tend to cluster near routes taken home by middle and high school students? Are teens using more tobacco products than ever before?

These are just some of the questions examined in cutting-edge tobacco research presented by Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) faculty and students at the recent 21st annual meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT) held in Philadelphia.

At this year’s SRNT meeting, a record number of abstracts were presented by nine students and two faculty members at Milken Institute SPH, for a total of 15 abstracts that take on a number of pressing issues related to the problem of nicotine addiction and other factors that might help with efforts to get more people, including teenagers, to quit using tobacco.

“According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cigarette smoking is still the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the United States, killing nearly 500,000 Americans every year,” said Kimberly Horn, EdD, MSW, associate dean of research and professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH. “The research presented at this year’s SRNT meeting, including studies undertaken by nine of our students, will help us better understand the tobacco use patterns and behaviors and might help identify novel ways to reduce or prevent smoking, especially among youth.”

Studies presented at the meeting included projects conducted under the DC Metro Tobacco Research and Instruction Consortium (MeTRIC), which is lead by Horn. MeTRIC is a partnership of experts in tobacco control from three founding institutions: Milken Institute SPH, Georgetown University and the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Legacy. One MeTRIC study by Horn and colleagues looked at retail stores selling tobacco products and their proximity to middle and high schools in six West Virginia counties. The study found a relationship between a high density of such stores and locations of schools, a finding that suggests students may frequent such establishments in order to buy or get others to buy tobacco products.

Another project by MeTRIC student member Vinu Ilakkuvan and her colleagues at Legacy studied whether youth watching shows and video online, instead of traditional live or recorded television, were exposed to more advertisements for tobacco products.  Ilakkuvan and her colleagues at Legacy surveyed 15 to 21 year olds and found that young people who watched video and shows online were 1.24 times more likely to see such ads compared to TV watchers.

According to the CDC about 23 percent of high school students currently use a tobacco product, such as cigarettes, cigars, hookahs or pipes. Unless such rates come down, the CDC estimates that millions of children and young adults alive today could die of smoking related illnesses—unless messages about the risks of smoking start to take hold in the younger generation. In fact, a SRNT study lead by doctoral students Maliha Ali, Diane J. Martinez, Tiffany R. Gray, and Laurel Curry examined factors related to youth simultaneously using multiple tobacco products.

Lorien C. Abroms, ScD, MA, MeTRIC co-director and an associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH and colleagues, presented the results from studies examining the ability of text messaging systems to help smokers resist the urge to light up. In one study, Abroms and her team, including students Leah E. Leavitt, Jennifer Schindler Ruwisch and post-doctoral fellow Christina Heminger, DrPH, looked at women enrolled in a program called Text4Baby, which sends text messages aimed at helping pregnant women stop or cut down on tobacco use. The participants reported smoking an average of 7.6 cigarettes per day at the start of the study and that decreased to 2.4 cigarettes per day at the four week mark. The pilot test suggests that such text messaging programs may help motivate women to stick to a quit date or cut down on smoking—outcomes that can lead to better health for new mothers and babies, Abroms says.

Other Milken Institute SPH research presented at the SRNT meeting includes studies showing or suggesting that:

  • Factors that predict teenage use of both cigarettes and marijuana include peer influence, depression and stressful life-events.
  • Youth that use more than one tobacco product, including cigars or e-cigarettes, are more likely to be older teens or male.
  • Black & Mild and Swisher Sweets are the primary cigar brands using direct mail and e-mail marketing ads and almost all ads including promotions.
  • Social media can amplify public health messages aimed at getting youth and young adults to never start or quit using tobacco products.
  • For a small number of teen smokers, smoking has become almost a full time job – with use averaging a cigarette almost every 30 waking minutes.

In addition to Milken Institute SPH faculty members Horn and Abroms the following students presented or contributed to research that was included at this year’s SRNT meeting: Diane J. Martinez; Jennifer Schindler-Ruwisch; Tiffany R. Gray, Laurel Curry; Ollie Ganz; Leah E. Leavitt; Christina L. Heminger and Maliha Ali, and Vinu Ilakkuvan.

“Our students had an impressive showing of innovation and professionalism,” said Horn. “I am very proud to call them colleagues in tobacco control.”