The Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health are awarding millions in funding to create 14 centers to conduct research on tobacco products.
Officials said Thursday that the agencies have awarded up to $53 million for fiscal 2013 for the Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science, mostly at universities around the country.
The centers can eventually receive more than $273 million over the next five years for research on marketing of tobacco products, adverse health consequences, ways to reduce addiction and toxicity, economics, policies and communications, as well as so-called modified risk tobacco products and electronic cigarettes — battery-powered devices made of plastic or metal that heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale.
The federal agencies said the centers will help shape regulations on tobacco products with the aim of protecting the public health and reducing the death and disease caused by tobacco use.
"The FDA is committed to a science-based approach that addresses the complex public health issues raised by tobacco product regulation," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement.
Among the multi-year grants is more than $18 million for researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to study methods for evaluating modified risk tobacco products and other tobacco products. VCU's work will include research in engineering, clinical behavior and randomized control trials to study the effects of tobacco products.
"It's not always clear how best to regulate the vast array of tobacco products that are out there, especially the newer ones like electronic cigarettes," said Thomas Eissenberg, professor of psychology and director of VCU's Clinical Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory. "We at VCU have absolutely no preconceived notions about these products. The whole basis behind science-based regulation is that we need to let the data guide us when it comes to regulating novel tobacco products."
The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the federal government authority, for the first time, to regulate tobacco products, including the ability to ban certain products, regulate marketing, reduce nicotine in tobacco products and block labels such "low tar" and "light." The law also gives the FDA authority to evaluate tobacco products for their health risks and lets the agency approve ones that could be marketed as less harmful than what's currently for sale.
In addition to VCU, the network includes the American Heart Association, the University of Maryland, Georgia State, the University of California-San Francisco, the University of Vermont, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Penn State, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas, Ohio State and two centers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum.