USC receives $12.8 million to study teen smoking

October 17, 1999

Research to support understanding of tobacco use and improve prevention efforts for Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders

The University of Southern California will establish a first-of-its-kind national center to examine tobacco use and prevention among teen-agers from Pacific Rim cultures, university researchers announced today.

The new Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center (TTURC) at USC will be funded by a $12.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute.

The center will investigate how culture, immigration and adaptation to the American lifestyle affect smoking among Asian, Pacific Islander and Latino youth. Researchers will design and test effective ways to discourage smoking and examine the effects of environmental tobacco smoke.

It is one of only six such federally funded centers created nationwide, and the only one to look specifically at Asian, Pacific Islander and Latino issues -- the first major, comprehensive and long-range project on such issues funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"Tobacco-related diseases are a worldwide problem, affecting people from many cultures," said the new center's director, C. Anderson Johnson, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine and head of USC's Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research. "Chronic diseases of lifestyle -- most of them originating largely from smoking -- have replaced acute diseases as the leading causes of death, even in developing countries."

Latino, Pacific Islander and Asian populations in California are growing rapidly. Together, they are expected to make up more than 60 percent of the state's population by 2025 -- up from 40 percent in 1995. They will comprise 75 percent of the state's public school population. California's school-based smoking prevention programs must start addressing the different cultures, lifestyles, issues and experiences of immigrant teen-agers, Johnson said.

Researchers, from anthropologists and statisticians to physicians and public health specialists, will unite through the center to uncover the subtle and complex effects of mingling cultures, acculturation, advertising and media, and social networks among teen-agers.

Issues may be different for Mexican immigrant youth than for second-generation Mexican Americans, for example. Chinese-American youth living in multicultural areas may face different pressures than Chinese teen-agers in mostly Chinese neighborhoods. Researchers have found that Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians, as well as South Americans, tend to smoke a lot when they first arrive in the United States, but smoke less over time. Chinese and Mexican youth, meanwhile, tend to smoke more as they ease into American life.

Center researchers will try to determine what accounts for such differences.

They will investigate how culture, cultural transition, genetics and individual behavior affect smoking.

They will conduct trials to assess new ways to discourage tobacco use and track population characteristics and trends in California and the Pacific Rim, to better tailor prevention trials to specific cultures within Asian, Pacific Islander and Latino groups.

They will develop user-friendly databases on tobacco prevention and demographics for others to share.

They will encourage tobacco programs from outside USC to draw on research from the center.

They will encourage public policymakers to use the center's findings to focus new tobacco laws, guidelines and programs.

Center scientists will work with youths in 62 middle schools throughout California, Hawaii, and the city of Wuhan in central China. Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, Ph.D., MPH, research assistant professor in preventive medicine, will lead community outreach efforts. She has worked in tobacco education among Latino groups since 1989.

USC investigators at the tobacco center also will form a unique collaboration with health officials in China to uncover solutions to smoking problems among the Chinese, Johnson said. About 70 percent of Chinese men smoke, and the nation has few governmental resources to combat the habit. Li Yan, M.D., chief physician and director of the Public Health and Anti-Epidemic Station in Wuhan, is working with USC researchers to coordinate projects involving smokers in China.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of illness in the United States. One of every five deaths -- more than 400,000 lives lost each year -- is due to diseases linked to smoking, American Lung Association statistics indicate. Smoking has also become the leading preventable cause of death in China, where smoking onset is occurring at increasingly younger ages in boys and girls.

The new center will operate through USC's Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research, a unique unit celebrating its 20th year and drawing on faculty from varied disciplines, including communication, education, film, psychology and medicine. The institute, which has a strong record of health promotion efforts relating to tobacco, also is linked to such important USC resources as the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and the new USC Neurogenetics Institute. The center will be housed on or adjacent to the USC Health Sciences Campus.

University of Southern California

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