Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Institute for Health Research and Policy have received a $2.3 million federal grant to study how young adults use hookahs, snus, electronic cigarettes, and other new tobacco products.
"What's intriguing and potentially challenging about the introduction of these new products is that they are perceived by many people as being safer products and alternatives to traditional, combustible tobacco," says Robin Mermelstein, director of the UIC institute and principal investigator of the National Cancer Institute-funded study.
Young adults are a vulnerable population, said Mermelstein, a professor of psychology at UIC.
"Our study is going to look at what some of their motivations are for using these products; how they use them; where they use them," she said. "Does it increase their overall tobacco dependence? Or, perhaps, does it help them reduce their tobacco dependence?"
Many young adults and older adults think such products are not tobacco and are not harmful, Mermelstein said. They may even believe that the government has endorsed their safety.
Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigs, are battery-operated devices that produce a vaporized or aerosolized nicotine -- known to be addictive -- which is inhaled. The smokeless devices can be used in non-smoking environments and are not regulated in most states. They do not carry FDA health warning labels.
The researchers will follow approximately 230 young adults, ages 18 to 30, who regularly use non-cigarette forms of tobacco. The participants will carry electronic diaries to record how and when they use tobacco each day.
The researchers will try to assess if the subjects are using the alternative tobacco products in conjunction with cigarettes, as a bridge or a delaying tactic to quitting smoking, as a style statement, or if they are using the products simultaneously with alcohol or drugs.
Young adults are a big market for tobacco companies, as they are often willing to try new products and experiment in a variety of settings, Mermelstein said. She and her coworkers also hope to develop new ways to convey factual information about alternative tobacco products to young adults.
"We're interested in seeing if there are effective and persuasive visual messages that we can convey through smartphone applications, to let people know what it is about these products that might make them harmful or helpful," Mermelstein said.
Co-investigators are Don Hedeker, Kathi Diviak, Jason Leigh, Steve Jones, Robert Kenyon and Alicia Matthews of UIC, and Thomas Piasecki of the University of Missouri.
The project is supported by the National Cancer Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health, under award number P01CA098262.
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