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U.S. government recruits researchers to further anti-smoking efforts

The U.S. government has taken a more active role in curbing smoking, with positive results for the public and for researchers. The first federally funded anti-smoking campaign kicked off in March 2012, and now a recent study details its successes. Further, the FDA and NIH together have awarded $53 million to fund 14 Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS) proposals that will research the risks of tobacco use and develop science-based methods that inform how tobacco products are regulated and marketed.

The anti-smoking campaign launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Tips From Former Smokers, featured stories of people suffering from the consequences of long-term smoking. These stories, which showcased limb amputation, larynx or jaw removal, and open-heart surgery, were likely aimed at eliciting strong emotional responses from viewers.

Research published in The Lancet estimates that 1.64 million smokers made a quit attempt due to " Tips ," and more than 220,000 of these smokers remained abstinent upon completion of the campaign. Among these smokers, an estimated 100,000 will remain abstinent from smoking long-term.   The study found that during the campaign period there was also a 132% increase in calls to 1-800-QUIT-NOW, a national smoking cessation helpline, and an even larger increase in traffic to a quit-assistance website ( ).

This hard-hitting strategy worked, even exceeding the campaign's goals (500,000 quit attempts and 50,000 permanent quits), according to research published in the September issue of The Lancet by the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. When the researchers extrapolated the responses of the roughly 4,000 survey participants to the entire US population, the results showed that an estimated 1.6 million smokers attempted to quit during that time period (an increase of 12% after the campaign aired). More than 220,000 of these smokers were still abstinent after the campaign ended, and it is estimated that half of them will likely quit permanently. The study also showed a dramatic increase in calls to a national smoking cessation helpline and an increase of 12 percent (4.7 million) of non-smokers discussing quitting with others.

Although the Tips campaign is predicted to have exceeded its original goals, the administration is also pursuing other research-intensive strategies. "While we've made tremendous strides in reducing the use of tobacco products in the U.S., smoking still accounts for one in five deaths each year, which is far too many," Francis Collins, the Director of the NIH, was quoted saying in a NIH news brief.

More than $273 million may be distributed over the next five years to fund tobacco-related research by creating the "first-of-its-kind" TCORS program that promises not only to further basic and applied research on tobacco's effects on public health and how to attenuate them, but also to train future tobacco scientists. These centers are tasked with addressing a wide range of questions with the ultimate goal of "reducing the burden and devastation of preventable disease caused by tobacco use," said Collins. The research will tackle a range of questions, such as how tobacco is toxic to human health, how to regulate the diverse and evolving tobacco products, and how to most effectively communicate the impacts and decisions of these studies.

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