Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded UNC a $19.4 million, five-year grant as one of the 14 Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS).  This Center will focus on issues related to tobacco prevention communication and regulation through 3 integrated projects.  We sat down with Dr. Seth Noar, Co-Director of the Communication Core, which contributes to all 3 Center projects, to get the scoop on what the J-School’s role in the Center is and how communication will help this Center be successful.

What is the J-School’s role in the tobacco center grant?

This 19.4 million dollar grant creates a Center for Regulatory Research on Tobacco Communications (CRRTC) here at UNC, housed in Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and led by Dr. Kurt Ribisl (my colleague in the Gillings School of Global Public Health). The center is a collaboration between Gillings, Lineberger, Wake Forest School of Medicine, and JOMC. I will be the Co-Director of the Communication Core, contributing to all 3 Center projects and in particular leading the message development activities on these projects. Laura Ruel, another J-school faculty member, is the eye-tracking expert on one of the projects. There is also funding available for doctoral student support and pilot projects that will benefit additional J-school students and faculty.

 What are the to 3 communication research questions for the center?

This center will undertake 3 major (integrated) projects over the next five years. All projects involve how we can most effectively communicate regarding the harms of cigarette and other tobacco use across the lifespan and among diverse populations. We will study what the public (and in particular, disparity groups) knows about harmful constituents that are in cigarettes, and how to communicate about them in ways that deter people from smoking (Project 1); what the public knows about the harms of other tobacco products such as hookah and e-cigarettes, and how to communicate about them in ways that deter people from using those products (Project 2); and finally, how to maximize source credibility effects in anti-tobacco messages (Project 3). This last project will use eye-tracking, an innovative methodology to help us understand how to assess and create the most effective messages.

How can we create messages to motivate people to quit consuming new tobacco products (i.e. e-cigs, dissolvables)

In a word – we need research. We need an in-depth understanding of what people know about these new tobacco products. We need a deep understanding of how people think about these products and their beliefs about the harms from these products. The Center will accomplish this through a national survey in which we will be oversampling disparity populations such as African Americans and gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals. There is a lot of misinformation that exists, but understanding what people know and how they think about these products is a critical first step in developing effective messages. Armed with that information, we can develop more effective anti-tobacco messages that can guide FDA’s regulatory actions.

 Tell us more about the eye-tracking technology (or any other communication niche).

The FDA/NIH funded 14 of these centers nationwide. We are one of the ONLY centers focused on communication issues, and indeed we are the ONLY center completely dedicated to developing and testing anti-tobacco messages (across all of our projects). In all 3 projects, we will be using both qualitative and quantitative research to understand how people think about tobacco product risk and to test and refine messages to maximize their ability to deter people from using tobacco products. All 3 projects culminate with a randomized or quasi-experimental trial where we will test the impact of our messages on tobacco use intentions or behaviors. The ultimate aim of all of this research is to develop evidence for efficacious messaging that can be used to guide FDA’s regulatory actions, which will reduce tobacco-related death and disease among the US population.

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