BETHESDA, MarylandIn 1998, the National Cancer Institute expanded its role in the investigation of tobacco, with a larger focus on understanding its use and the mechanism of nicotine(Drug information on nicotine) addiction. The new effort, in both intramural and extramural research, has emphasized an interdisciplinary approach that includes experts in such fields as epidemiology, psychology, and working with ethnic minority populations.
ONI Washington bureau chief Patrick Young discussed the NCI program with Robert Croyle, PhD, associate director for behavioral research, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, and Scott Leischow, PhD, chief of the division’s Tobacco Control Research Branch.
ONI: Tobacco has been explored extensively. What questions could possibly be left to answer?
Dr. Croyle: Quite a few. People still smoke, kids are still taking up smoking, and we still have a large industry that is heavily marketing a product that is a major cause of preventable death. We have clearly made progress, but there is much more we need to know about the addiction process and how to more effectively prevent tobacco use and help people quit.
ONI: Why does NCI see an "unprecedented opportunity" to reduce the disease burden of tobacco?
Dr. Croyle: We have seen a great deal of progress in disciplines relevant to studying tobacco use, such as behavioral science, pharmacology, addiction research, genetic susceptibility, and research at the population and community levels. We see an opportunity to bring together several diverse fields to develop a more comprehensive biobehavioral model of tobacco use, which could then inform areas such as drug development for the treatment of nicotine addiction and more effective programs to prevent tobacco use.
Dr. Leischow: What makes this area of research different from other NCI efforts is that we are dealing with a cancer-causing agent that is legal and marketed widely. It is always a challenge for us to move the science forward without it getting slowed down or diverted by political issues or by industry efforts to undermine the credibility of the science.