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Drawing connections between tobacco, health equity and cancer

I want to be able to use findings from the marketplace to inform policy.

Vaping has become a new battleground between tobacco lobbyists and anti-smoking campaigners
Vaping has become a new battleground between tobacco lobbyists and anti-smoking campaigners - Copyright AFP/File JOEL SAGET
Vaping has become a new battleground between tobacco lobbyists and anti-smoking campaigners - Copyright AFP/File JOEL SAGET

There is an important intersection between tobacco use, health equity, and cancer. One question the policy makers need to grapple with is with how market and regulatory changes affect health behaviour? Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s new takes aim at tobacco use, cancer rates, and informing policy.

Another related research question is with how variables such as pricing and product mix influence what substances, or therapies, people turn to? Furthermore, how do those choices moderate or amplify health disparities?

Researcher Roberta Freitas-Lemos focuses on tobacco, which is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S. and the cause of more than 8 million deaths annually worldwide.

Her research program draws on behavioural economics and tools such as the Experimental Tobacco Marketplace in order to provide insight into policies and products that can help reduce smoking and improve lives through large-scale intervention.

In the marketplace, study participants use an online account to purchase tobacco and replacement therapy products based on their reported use. Researchers adjust the product mix and pricing on an Amazon-like interface to predict their effects on purchase behaviour.

“I want to be able to use findings from the marketplace to inform policy,” Freitas-Lemos explains. “That’s the important gap that we have right now — getting scientifically grounded data to inform how to reduce cancer rates.”

She adds: “All these emerging topics needed fast solutions. Tobacco was a problem across all programs, and all populations…I saw the harmful effects of tobacco, and how difficult it was for scientists to inform decision-making.”

Freitas-Lemos joined the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute as a postdoctoral associate in 2019. A primary focus of her approach has been to study the effect of tax and regulatory policy on nicotine purchases.

Freitas-Lemos wanted to examine policies proposed by government and to create novel and unexplored policies and integrate findings with population-based modelling.

This will enable her to project cancer rates and conduct the cost-benefit analysis needed to quantifiably understand the trade-offs related to implementation, disparities, and long-term health.

From this she asks: “Will policies mean that people are going to quit tobacco? Or transition to something else? How many people will be impacted, and how will different interventions impact government spending?”

The research output will tell.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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