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Research Article Research Article

Research funded to study the appeal of menthol and smoking by people with HIV

Researchers at the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Truth Initiative received funding for two one-year pilot projects from MeTRIC, the Washington D.C. Metro Tobacco Research and Instruction Consortium. Each project will receive $30,000 to support collaborative projects with community stakeholders and researchers at Georgetown University and George Washington Univeristy on menthol cigarette use patterns and attitudes and research on creating a tailored program to help smokers living with HIV quit smoking.

Young adult appeal to menthols

Washington, D.C., represents an important policy environment for research into behaviors and attitudes about menthol tobacco, which is tied to smoking initiation and difficulty quitting.  The city has a substantial African-American population and previous research shows that African-American smokers use menthol cigarettes at disproportionately higher rates than other racial groups.

Using existing data from 1,200 adult cigarette smokers in Washington, D.C., 80 percent of whom smoke menthols, researchers will study the link between menthol and tobacco-related risk behaviors, such as substance use and alcohol use, across age and race. Researchers will also conduct an experiment using 500 young adults to examine the effects of menthol cigarette packaging on perceptions of harm and addictiveness. Finally, researchers will use daily diary assessments with cell phones to measure sensory experiences of menthol cigarette smoking in young adults recruited in Washington, DC.

“This research could fill a critical gap in what we know about menthol smoking and answer key questions about whether packaging misleads young adults to think that menthol cigarettes are less harmful and less addictive,” said Dr. Amy Cohn, Principal Investigator of this study. Dr. Cohn is a Research Investigator at Schroeder Institute® and Assistant Professor of Clinical Oncology at Georgetown and will be collaborating with Schroeder Institute colleagues, Drs. Shyanika Rose and Andrea Villanti.

Smokers Living with HIV and AIDS

People living with HIV and AIDS smoke at higher rates than the overall population, even as their HIV status could put them at a higher risk of the negative health effects of tobacco use. Few resources currently exist to address the specific needs of individuals with HIV infection who also smoke and are interested in quitting. To address this service gap, researchers will study tobacco use behavior in Washington, D.C. to understand the unique challenge smokers living with HIV face when trying to quit smoking.

The research project, led by Schroeder Institute post-doctoral fellow Dr. Jessica Elf, will assess correlates and risk factors for tobacco use among individuals with HIV infection in Washington, D.C. The project will also pilot a smoking cessation program among people who have HIV and smoke and are interested in quitting in order to develop a program to better serve this population. Finally, the research project will conduct a landscape analysis of HIV services and tobacco cessation services accessible to the community to understand areas for integration within the existing infrastructure. Given the high rate of HIV in the Washington, D.C. area and the overrepresentation in this community by marginalized populations, a tailored smoking cessation program will help fill this public health need and begin to address long-standing disparities.

Dr. Elf is collaborating on this project with Schroeder Research Investigators Drs. Raymond Niaura and Amy Cohn, as well as researchers from George Washington University and Georgetown University.