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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Columbia Tobacco Cessation Initiatives

Dr. Neil Schluger, interim chair of epidemiology; chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine; and professor of medicine, environmental health sciences, and epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and College of Physicians and Surgeons, is chief scientific officer of the World Lung Foundation and a co-author of the Tobacco Atlas. Launched this March at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health, the completely revised and updated fifth edition of the Tobacco Atlas, together with its companion website,, aims to be the most comprehensive, informative and accessible resource on the most important and current issues in the evolving tobacco epidemic. Media coverage of the findings and recommendations in the Atlas appeared in Reuters, Time, and the Lancet.

The Tobacco Atlas was developed to be used by students, teachers, researchers, journalists, advocates, and policy-makers. Moreover, it is an invitation to partners from related communities – including non-communicable disease, environment, equality and development – to join together in this crucial public health fight, because all of our interests are dramatically affected by the tobacco epidemic and its human tolls

Drs. Amy Fairchild, Ronald Bayer, and James Colgrove in the department of sociomedical sciences and the Center for the History and Ethic of Public Health have been frequently quoted on the topic of e-cigarettes. While they are supportive of e-cigarettes as a harm reduction tool, they also call for a continued assessment of the potential harms since the data on e-cigarettes is still incomplete. In addition to coverage by CNN, WNYC, and NPR, their opinion pieces have been published in major journals and publications including The New York Times and Huffington Post.

In a paper recently published in the journal Health Affairs they looked at public health campaigns in New York City around smoking and the implications of the shift to use fear and disgust to spur behavior change in the present public health environment. They noted that it is difficult to measure to what extent these successes and failures can be attributed to fear-based campaigns, in part, because the campaigns were accompanied by other interventions like a cigarette tax.

Dr. Peter Messeri, professor of sociomedical sciences, has reported on tobacco use in a cohort of persons living with HIV/AIDS residing in the New York City Region for the HIV Health and Human Services Planning Council of NYC.  Half of this largely middle age cohort are current smokers. Although the cohort has regular contact with physicians, who advise them to stop smoking, rates of sustained cessation over 10-year period remain low.  These results document urgent need for targeting of effective cessation programs for HIV/AIDS populations (CHAIN Report 2012-9, Tobacco Use, Cessation and Medical Provider Intervention, funded under the City’s Ryan White HATEA Grant).

Dr. Messeri, who was part of the original research team to evaluate the American Legacy Foundation’s truth campaign, continues to have this role with Legacy staff to evaluate a new truth campaign that was launched in 2015.

Dr. Denise Kandel,professor of sociomedical sciences in psychiatry, investigates the natural history of nicotine dependence, risk and protective factors, and consequences of dependence in adolescence and early adulthood.  She is continuing to investigate parental influences on children’s smoking and nicotine dependence in a large sample of U.S. parents and their children. Results from a separate study of how humans progress from tobacco to cocaine have implications for the current debate on e-cigarettes. Nicotine changes the brain and these brain changes are of particular concern as regards adolescents whose use of e-cigarettes is increasing exponentially, in a period of striking developmental changes in the brain.

Dr. Steven Stellman,professor of epidemiology, has been working with colleagues in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on a study of health behaviors, including tobacco and alcohol use, in adolescents who were exposed to 9/11 as children that has been submitted for publication.

Dr. Merlin Chowkwanyun, will join the Mailman School in September and become the first Donald H. Gemson Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences. Dr. Chowkwanyun will be a member of the faculty of the department of sociomedical sciences and a member of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health. He will oversee the creation and implementation of the Program on the History of the Master Settlement Agreement and the American Legacy Foundation at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.