The University of Maryland School of Public Health has a variety of research programs focused on tobacco control, including studies of the microbial constituents of tobacco products and their associated adverse health effects and examinations of the prevalence of smoking and e-cigarette use among young adults and strategies to improve prevention and cessation efforts.
Dr. Amy R. Sapkota, professor of environmental health in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, and Dr. Emmanuel Mongodin, with the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Sciences, are co-principal investigators on a project that is part of the UMD Tobacco Center for Regulatory Science. They are applying advanced DNA and RNA sequencing technologies to determine the range of potentially harmful bacteria present in the tobacco products (their bacterial microbiome) as well as in the mouths of tobacco users (the oral microbiome). One goal is to determine how these bacterial communities may influence the production of cancer-causing compounds in tobacco products and impact the health of tobacco users.
Two recent publications from this project focused on identifying and characterizing the complex bacterial communities residing in menthol and non-menthol cigarettes, which include bacterial pathogens of importance to public health. One study, published in Microbiome, tested the products Camel Crush, user-mentholated Camel Crush, Camel Kings, custom-mentholated Camel Kings, and Newport Menthols, and found that in all products, Pseudomonas was the most abundant bacterial genera, regardless of mentholation status. Most importantly, the study showed that mentholation of cigarette products, a process used to reduce the harshness of cigarette products and appeal to a wider spectrum of consumers, significantly impacts the bacterial community of these products. Mentholation was associated with a reduction in potential human bacterial pathogens and an increase in bacterial species resistant to harsh environmental conditions.
Another study, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, also found that manufacturing and user manipulations, such as mentholation and storage conditions, may directly impact the microbiome of cigarette tobacco as well as the levels of carcinogens. These findings have critical implications regarding exposure to potentially infectious pathogens among cigarette smokers, and can be used to inform future tobacco control policies focused on the microbiology of tobacco, an understudied focus area in tobacco regulatory science.
Other recent studies from the UMD School of Public Health include those that focus on the complexities of youth and young adult behavior related to tobacco use and prevention. One study, published in Substance Use and Misuse in April, explored the association between flavored e-cigarette use and cigarette smoking behavior over a one-year period among a nationally representative sample of U.S. young adult smokers. The author, Dr. Julia Cen Chen, a recent graduate from the department of behavioral and community health who is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, found that while non-tobacco and non-menthol e-cigarette flavors seem to help reduce cigarette smoking frequencies, the young adults who used these e-cigarette flavors were more likely to use e-cigarettes with higher frequencies and in larger amounts. She writes that “this research emphasizes the need for young adult smokers to cut down on smoking through using FDA approved cessation methods, increase harm perceptions about flavored e-cigarette use, and quit tobacco products altogether (instead of using one product to replace the other) to reduce nicotine dependence.”
Dr. Craig Fryer, an associate professor of behavioral and community health, also recently published a methodological review of current strategies for tobacco control in youth and young adults in PLoS One. Dr. Fryer and colleagues found that mixed methods research designs can be of great promise in tobacco control research efforts and have the ability to provide findings of integrated data that are beyond the limitations of quantitative and qualitative data alone.
“The field of tobacco control needs more innovative research methods and interventions to understand and overcome the complex issues of tobacco use among the world’s youth,” Dr. Fryer urges. “Mixed methods research gives tobacco control researchers a powerful methodological strategy for taking on this challenge.”