UK gets $19 million to study tobacco-product markets and possible additional federal regulation of them in Kentucky

Kentucky Health News

The University of Kentucky is one of seven institutions that are getting about $20 million each in federal money over the next four years to examine the potential impact of federal tobacco regulations.

The Appalachian Tobacco Regulatory Science Team, which UK has dubbed AppalTRuST, is funded by $19 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products.

“The goal of AppalTRuST is to investigate the impact of federal regulatory policies in rural communities through collaboration, education and pioneering regulatory scientific research,” said a UK news release that alluded to Kentucky’s longstanding health problems from using what was once its top cash crop.

“This is a state with its own struggles and health disparities associated with tobacco use, particularly in Appalachian Kentucky,” Dr. Seth Himelhoch, chair of the UK Department of Psychiatry and the grant’s principal investigator, said in the release. “While America has overall reduced its use of combustible tobacco, Appalachian Kentucky, in particular, has not moved along at the same pace.”

Kentucky’s adult smoking rate, 19.6% in 2021, is second only to West Virginia’s.

“It seems very important to me that when the federal government is going to evaluate regulations for tobacco use it should certainly be doing so in a part of the country where decreasing combustible tobacco use is likely to lead to long-term health benefits including reductions in cancer and cardiovascular disease,” Himelhoch said.

UK Vice President for Research Lisa Cassis said, “Tobacco has long been an issue that challenges the health and well-being of Kentucky. It is our mission as scientists and stewards of our land-grant institution to advance the commonwealth beyond any obstacles to its public health. This award offers the team behind AppalTRuST an opportunity to lay a foundation for high-level, innovative and interdisciplinary research to make an impact on our state.”

The co-directors of AppalTRuST are Ellen J. Hahn, an endowed nursing professor and director of the Bridging Research Efforts and Advocacy Toward Healthy Environments (BREATHE), and Teresa M. Waters, dean of public health at Augusta University in Georgia, the former chair of health management and policy in the UK College of Public Health. The project involves that college and the colleges of Nursing, Medicine, Education, and Arts and Sciences, as well as the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Hahn said, “Kentuckians are at a much higher risk for heart disease, lung conditions and cancer due to high smoking rates and weak smoke-free protections. AppalTRuST will learn with and from the community to better understand their use of tobacco, retail marketing of tobacco projects, and consumer behaviors in rural communities. The health and economic burdens from tobacco use in our state is enormous, and we hope to foster sustainable change in our communities through this work.”

The project will focus on two regions — Boyd, Carter and Greenup counties in northeastern Kentucky, partly in a metropolitan area, and a more rural group of counties in southeast Kentucky: Breathitt, Knott, Leslie, Letcher and Perry.

The AppalTRuST team will start its research by looking at how people get tobacco products and provide an overview of the marketplace, including the prevalence and impact of marketing and how FDA regulations may affect tobacco use. It will also use a virtual storefront to evaluate how possible regulations would affect purchases of tobacco products.

“We hope the findings AppalTRuST produces will provide important information to the FDA as they regulate tobacco products in a way that positively impacts the health of Kentucky’s rural communities,” said Hahn, who created UK’s Kentucky Center on Smoke-Free Policy.

The other six institutions awarded grants for Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science are the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan, Pennsylvauia State University, Ohio State University, the University of South Carolina and Yale University.

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