Research to uncover marketing effects on college smoking habits

Nneka Waturuocha

Two UT professors are among several nationally chosen scholars to analyze trends in young people’s tobacco use and how those trends correlate to targeted marketing.

Alexandra Loukas, a kinesiology and health education professor, and Keryn Pasch, a kinesiology and health education assistant professor, are part of the newly founded Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science on Youth and Young Adults. The center is housed at the UT School of Public Health, which received a grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health for its research. 

The research will include surveying UT students about their tobacco usage over a period of six months and will also document tobacco marketing around campus.

“We’ll be documenting all outdoor tobacco marketing … and also marketing at the point of sale, such as at convenience stores, gas stations, etc.,” Loukas said. “We’ll also document advertising and promotions in the magazines and newspapers that our participants read, on the websites they visit and the direct mail they receive from tobacco companies.”

The goal of the study is not only to more closely understand the ways in which UT students are being influenced by tobacco marketing, but also to further understand the factors that can lead to long-term use of tobacco products.

“Over the past 13 years, cigarette use has been declining but use of non-cigarette alternatives is becoming increasingly more popular,” Loukas said. “Most non-cigarette alternatives are flavored. Flavored products appeal to younger, less experienced tobacco users.” 

According to Loukas, this sort of marketing might introduce young college students to tobacco through seemingly harmless alternatives and cause them to get hooked on nicotine, leading them to cigarettes and health consequences common among smokers. 

“I don’t smoke myself but I know a few people who do,” biology junior Ashley Fenuyi said. “A lot of my friends love going to hookah bars, but I don’t think they really know the possible health effects that come from things like that.” 

Public health junior Destinee Clark noted the significance of the research.

“I think that understanding the effects that come from these things [is] important,” Clark said. “We need this information so we can make wiser decisions when it comes to tobacco.” 

The FDA and the National Insitutes of Health will use the findings of the research to influence regulation of tobacco products, which will protect the health of college students and the health of the public as a whole, Loukas said.

“Because our study is funded by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health we hope that our study can inform regulation of products that are currently unregulated,” Loukas said.