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 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.