National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
November 3, 2009 • Volume 6 / Number 21

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Guest Director's Update

Entering a New Era in Tobacco Control Research

With the enactment of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act on June 22, the United States entered a new era in tobacco control and prevention. The act, which gives the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products, means that the tobacco industry will no longer have free reign to market tobacco products to youth, promote so-called “light” cigarettes as less harmful than others, keep scientists and the public in the dark about ingredients and design features of cigarettes, and make unproven health claims for modified tobacco products. Already, the FDA has shown that it intends to act aggressively to implement the new law; on September 22, the agency announced a ban on fruit- and candy-flavored cigarettes.

Dr. Cathy Backinger

While the importance of the new law cannot be overstated, it is only one part of a much larger, comprehensive tobacco control and prevention agenda, for which NCI-supported science is critically important. Most recently, NCI funded 15 new grants under two new Requests for Applications (RFAs), jump-starting research in two important areas: improving effectiveness of smoking cessation interventions among low-income adults, and preventing and reducing smokeless tobacco use. In 2010, we expect to fund grants in a third area, targeting state and community tobacco control and media research.

This issue of the NCI Cancer Bulletin highlights several important tobacco control research studies supported by NCI. In the largest trial of its kind to date, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that telephone counseling using motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral approaches significantly improved 6-month cessation rates in older teens. Given that 20 percent of American high school seniors smoke cigarettes, and that few strategies have been effective at promoting cessation among teen smokers, this finding is very significant. This issue also highlights a study of mobile phone technology provided to DC Tobacco Quitline callers and the expansion of Smokefree.gov, including new links to social media, such as Facebook, that take advantage of interactive Web technologies to reach new audiences for smoking cessation.

NCI’s tobacco control research cannot be limited to the United States, where, as in most high-income countries, tobacco use is slowly declining. By 2030, global mortality from tobacco use is expected to rise to 8 million deaths per year. About 80 percent of those deaths will occur in low- and middle-income countries, where tobacco use is still increasing. Research will be critical to averting this global epidemic, which threatens to reverse hard-won improvements in global health and which economically developing countries with overburdened health care systems can ill afford.

NCI supports a number of critically important international research projects, including the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project, which evaluates policies being enacted around the world in response to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control. We are also a co-funder of the Fogarty International Center’s International Tobacco and Health Research and Capacity Building Program, which has galvanized tobacco control research in low- and middle-income countries.

Tobacco use remains the country’s leading cause of premature, preventable death—including an estimated one-third of all cancer deaths—and it is an important contributor to health disparities. But sustained research, comprehensive state-based tobacco control programs, and the FDA’s new authority to regulate tobacco products have put us on the road to a new future. Decades of scientific research supported by NCI and other NIH institutes have provided the foundation for the FDA’s new authority. NCI is committed to working with the FDA and other partners to ensure that scientific research continues to inform and advance tobacco control policies and interventions.

Dr. Cathy L. Backinger
Chief, Tobacco Control Research Branch
NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences