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3 innovative ways a DC consortium is tackling tobacco use disparities

Despite declines in U.S. smoking rates overall, D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods smoke at rates of about 40 percent, more than twice the national level.

Disparities like these can be found across the country, where vulnerable communities have been far less impacted by policies responsible for driving down national smoking rates. To address these gaps, a coalition of local and national groups in D.C., including Truth Initiative®, is teaming up to develop and employ innovative methods for reducing tobacco use.

Innovative tobacco control approaches are sorely needed to address these gaps in tobacco control

The D.C. Metro Tobacco Research and Instruction Consortium, founded in 2013, is bringing together multiple sectors to solve tobacco problems in innovative ways. It’s a method known as convergence, an “often overlooked and under-implemented” strategy in tobacco control and public health, according to a study in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Health.

The study uses MeTRIC as a case example and reviews existing articles about convergence to break down how to best apply the strategy to tobacco control. Here are three ways MeTRIC demonstrates how to use convergence to improve tobacco use disparities:

Build a platform for local and national leaders

“D.C., plagued with extraordinarily high tobacco rates in its most diverse neighborhoods, is also home to some of the top tobacco control scientists in the world and a dedicated cadre of health officials. Yet the thread linking the problem to the full complement of problem solvers was not fully woven,” write the study’s authors.

MeTRIC is creating that thread with a collaboration of national leaders from Truth Initiative, Georgetown University Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Milken School of Public Health at the George Washington University, as well as community advocates and the local health department. The groups are united under the mission of conducting community-driven research and translating that research into culturally competent policy and practice in D.C.

Establish new inter-organizational processes

Since organizations often have “fixed ways of doing business,” convergence requires new processes of working together. MeTRIC has developed tobacco control courses which will be available to the community—including students from 14 local universities and local department of health officials—to train the next generation of tobacco control leaders.

Share resources

MeTRIC exemplifies how a coalition can leverage resources. MeTRIC conducts shared grant-writing and a small joint pilot grant program to foster innovative team science across MeTRIC members. The program is funded by all three founding universities, but awardees are required to involve a community partner. For example, Truth Initiative and MeTRIC partners are conducting two one-year pilot projects in D.C. covering menthol cigarette use patterns and attitudes, and research on creating a tailored program to help smokers living with HIV quit smoking.

While applying convergence to tobacco control is still new, the potential to effect change is great. As the study’s authors put it, “Innovative tobacco control approaches are sorely needed to address these gaps in tobacco control.”