Guest Update by Dr. Robert Croyle
NCI's Tobacco Control Research Yields Results
This is an exciting time in tobacco control research, particularly because of the excellent progress that has been made in smoking prevention and cessation.
Cigarette sales, for example, are at their lowest point in more than 5 decades. Our messages about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke exposure are being heard: more and more U.S. cities and states, not to mention many other countries, have passed laws that ban smoking in public establishments, including workplaces, restaurants, and bars.
But new challenges continue to arise. As the spotlight article in this week's Cancer Bulletin illustrates, tobacco products themselves are scientific moving targets. In addition to so-called flavored cigarettes, products like hookahs and bidis appear to be gaining popularity, particularly among young people. Furthermore, tobacco use is rising in the developing world as it is declining in the U.S. With such trends threatening to slow or even reverse our hard-fought gains, complacency is not an option.
NCI is committed to ensuring that we continue to see significant declines in tobacco use. As part of this effort, NCI is engaged in and funding important programs and initiatives that tackle prevention and cessation from several angles.
Among these are several successful collaborative efforts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most recently, we worked together to launch the national smoking cessation quitline. Since its launch in November 2004, 1-800-QUIT-NOW has received 213,000 calls. There are now quitlines in 45 states, and by the end of 2006 we expect that all states will have a quitline with access through 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
NCI and CDC partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to launch a project called Helping Young Smokers Quit. This project has gathered information on a representative sample of youth smoking-cessation programs throughout the U.S. and will evaluate whether these programs have helped youth quit smoking.
On the international front, NCI, the Fogarty International Center, and other NIH institutes are working to support the successful International Tobacco and Health Research and Capacity Building Program.
In the prevention arena, NCI is funding work by Dr. James Sargent and colleagues at Dartmouth on the link between smoking in movies and youth smoking behavior. The latest study, published last November, found that young people who watched the most smoking in movies were almost three times more likely to begin smoking than their peers who watched the least smoking.
Dr. Sargent's research has spurred meetings between state attorneys general and movie industry groups to discuss ways to curb the amount of smoking in movies.
There also is the research led by Dr. Caryn Lerman at the Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, cofunded by NCI and NIDA, which is opening new windows into smoking cessation treatment.
Dr. Lerman's group is focused on improving pharmacotherapy for smoking cessation by analyzing the neurobiological pathways involved in nicotine dependence. They have identified a key brain receptor associated with nicotine's physiologic "reward," as well as a genetic variant associated with increased ability to quit smoking. This provides new leads to developing more effective individualized smoking cessation treatments.
As these examples illustrate, NCI is pursuing a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to tobacco control research. I'm extremely optimistic about our efforts. We can continue to reduce tobacco use and, more importantly, reap the resulting public health benefits.