Yale researchers are joining a nationwide fight to regulate tobacco.
On Sept. 19, the United States Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Disease and Prevention awarded 14 five-year grants to institutions across the country in order to create several Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science. The TCORS will conduct scientific research on the addictive nature of ingredients in tobacco to help shape future FDA regulations. Yale received a $20 million federal grant to create its TCORS — set to open at the end of the month — due to the University’s superior faculty and scientists, said Yale School of Medicine associate psychiatry professor Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, who will be a co-director for the Yale TCORS.
“Tobacco addiction is still the number one, preventable cause of death in the United States,” Krishnan-Sarin said. “While rates of cigarette use appear to have stabilized in the United States, these rates are still high and there is also increasing concern about other emerging tobacco products.
Researchers and scientists nationwide have spent several years and millions of dollars to further understand the relationship between nicotine use and addiction as well as the subsequent detrimental health consequences. Although nicotine’s effects on the brain are now mostly understood, the 4,000 other constituents of tobacco and the new e-cigarettes — an electronic inhaler that serves as a substitute for tobacco smoking — need to be studied further to solidify FDA regulation, said James J. Mahoney III, predoctoral clinical neuropsychology intern at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
The TCORS center at Yale has four specific goals — to test the effects of flavors on nicotine choice and the brain’s reward mechanisms, to understand the effects of smoking in adolescent smokers, to create knowledge for tobacco regulation using experiments and economics and to test the effects of menthol on nicotine reinforcement in smokers.
“Menthol, sugars and other tobacco flavors are important sensations that smokers and e-cigarette users associate with the experience of using tobacco products,” said Yale Medical School psychiatry professor Marina Picciotto, core faculty member of the Yale TCORS. “Sensations, like the smell of menthol or the taste of flavors added to tobacco or e-cigarettes, is enough to cause craving for tobacco.”
The Yale TCORS research will target the reinforcement of menthol and nicotine flavors in addiction. From their work, the researchers hope to produce acceptable regulations not only for nicotine but the other ingredients such as flavoring inside of the tobacco.
Yale was chosen as one of the TCORSs because it has the resources to carry out the four different projects, Krishnan-Sarin said. The other 13 institutions — which include the American Heart Association, University of California-San Francisco, University of Pennsylvania and the Ohio State University — were selected to conduct various projects based on their resources and superior scientific productivity, according to the NIH website.
“The most notable aspect of our center is that it brings together scientists with expertise in multiple fields to conduct research relevant to tobacco regulation,” Krishnan-Sarin said. “We expect that the findings from our center projects will have significant and immediate impact on regulatory decisions.”
She added that Yale will use the $20 million to train new tobacco regulation researchers and interpret the findings to make policy decisions about existing and future tobacco products, revolutionizing the concept of addiction and working to meet deadlines with rapid results for the FDA.
Approximately 300,000 Americans die each year from tobacco-related illnesses, according to Picciotto.