Research Center Studies Tobacco Use

Whenever we walk down Ring Road, we inhale secondhand smoke, whether or not we want to. Sure, we try to avoid those puffs around us, but it’s almost impossible to dodge all of the smokers. No matter what public place we’re in, it seems that there are always a handful of smokers surrounding us who are seemingly oblivious to the abundant studies that depict the numerous health risks of smoking. How can we prevent this large number of smokers from growing?
The UC Irvine Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center has been working on solutions to end youth tobacco use since 1999 and has offered ways to help solve this problem.
‘The purpose of the Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center is to cross different fields to solve this problem,’ explained Daniel Stokols, Ph.D., professor of planning, policy and design. For example, he explained, ‘Professor Frances Leslie [in the Department of Pharmacology and Anatomy and Neurobiology] and her team used rat brains as an analog to human brains to see the effects of nicotine on the brain.’ These findings showed that adolescents may be more susceptible to tobacco use because of their immature forebrain and the fact that this region of the brain correlates with tobacco addictiveness.
Not only does tobacco use cause many health problems, but it also contributed to the $7.1 billion spent by the state of California on tobacco-related health problems in 1998, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Thousands of people die each year from tobacco use, and the facility aims to find the different effects of tobacco and the origins of smoking in humans.
Additionally, the state ‘hopes that the findings that have been gathered can be used effectively by policy makers and legislators to enact programs and policies that will reduce the rate of smoking and health problems associated with smoking in California and in other states as well,’ Stokols said.
Sajjad Ahmad, Ph.D., research project leader, of planning, policy and design, and Tammy Tengs, former assistant professor of planning, policy, and design worked together to form a tobacco policy model. According to the TTURC Web site, they used a computer simulation model which studies the change of smoking behavior in the United States as the population ages over time.
In addition, the study explored the effectiveness of tobacco prevention programs with smoking reduction efforts. Their study found that prevention programs may produce the largest health impact over a period of 100 years. Ahmad and Teng’s studies suggest that it is more effective to reduce what initiates smoking in youth than to implement prevention programs.
‘They came up with different policies on saving [taxpayers] hundreds of billions of dollars because it is more cost effective [in the long run] to get kids to stop smoking,’ Stokols said. ‘They put all these different findings together and they found that taxes at the state level are more effective at getting people to smoke less.’
Research shows that although the law states that minors cannot purchase cigarettes, most people begin smoking before the age of 18 and that smokers who take up the habit earlier in life are less likely to be able to quit.
The expansive team of researchers at TTURC, which includes graduate students and professors from different fields, plans on sending its findings to legislators and policy makers in hopes of establishing programs and policies that curb tobacco intake in youth. Some of the suggested legislations include raising cigarette taxes by 20 percent, implementing laws and regulations that urge law enforcers to be more stern toward retailers that sell tobacco to those underaged