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Penn team receives $20 million in federal funding to establish Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science

Philadelphia -- A $20 million federal grant will create the University of Pennsylvania Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (Penn TCORS). A first-of-its-kind regulatory science research enterprise, the new center is designed to conduct studies to inform the regulation of tobacco products to protect public health. The new grant is supported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and will fund research from 2103 to 2018.

The new Penn TCORS, co-led by Penn Professors Robert Hornik and Caryn Lerman, includes faculty experts from the Annenberg School for Communication, the Perelman School of Medicine, and the Wharton School. The Penn TCORS is among 14 centers from across the nation which will receive a total of up to $53 million for tobacco-related research in fiscal year 2013. The Penn TCORS will have a thematic focus on tobacco-related messaging in the complex, 21st century communication environment, with projects that address multiple levels of effect, extending from neuroscience to health policy.

Despite decades of work to reduce its prevalence, tobacco use in the United States continues to be the leading cause of preventable death and disease.

"Public communication about tobacco products has been transformed by the digital marketing revolution and the rapid diffusion of emerging social media," said Robert Hornik, PhD, Wilbur Schramm Professor of Communication and Health Policy in the Annenberg School for Communication "As a result, tobacco product information and misinformation is readily available through mass media sources such as newspapers and TV, social media such as Twitter, user commentary on media, and the cigarette package itself. Such misinformation can mislead the public to underestimate the dangers or overestimate the benefits of various tobacco products, and threatens to undermine FDA's regulatory efforts."

The Penn TCORS will carry out several projects, including:

  • A comprehensive analysis of the nature and effects of both traditional and emerging media coverage of tobacco products on youth and young adults.
  • Experimental analyses of "belief echoes" -- lingering public attitudes based on misinformation about tobacco products -- and will examine novel, theory-based corrective interventions.
  • Experimental analysis of the effects of cigarette packaging formats on smoking behavior as well as downstream biological effects.
  • Establishing the Tobacco Fact Check Core, a tobacco specific version of APPC's award-winning and, each of which uncovers fact from fiction and/or "spin" in political messages.

In addition, a new training program will provide opportunities for doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows to strengthen their research capacity in tobacco communication and regulatory science in an intensive, rigorous, multi-disciplinary environment.

"Despite massive efforts to eradicate tobacco addiction -- and some significant successes -- tobacco dependence continues to be a major public health problem," said Caryn Lerman, PhD, Mary W. Calkins Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Annenberg School for Communication, and Deputy Director of Penn's Abramson Cancer Center. "By marshalling the tremendous resources we have at Penn Medicine and Annenberg, we're aiming to uncover new ways of countering the insidious effects of advertising and misinformation that induce people, especially the young, to adopt this lethal habit."


Contact: Holly Auer
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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