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Georgetown University Heads Alternative Tobacco Project

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has announced a grant of $17 million to a consortium of research centers led by Georgetown University Medical Center.// The aim of the grant is to fund a project to determine if alternative tobacco products reduce health risks of tobacco itself.

The sweeping grant, the first of its kind, will examine all aspects of the increasing number of "safer" tobacco or nicotine delivery systems, products which range from low nicotine cigarettes and cigarettes that heat tobacco instead of burn it, to nicotine mints that are now available, and little bags of tobacco, currently being test marketed in the U.S., that users place beneath their upper lip.

"Consumers should know if these products truly reduce exposure to carcinogens, and experience tells us this information will not be either forthcoming from the companies that manufacture them, or that we need independent verification of claims," said the grant's lead scientist, Peter Shields, M.D., a Georgetown professor of Medicine and Oncology and Director of Cancer Genetics and Epidemiology at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Figuring out if these products will actually reduce exposures, with the implication that they are safer, is not a simple task, Shields said. These researchers will develop new methods to evaluate and develop new methods for testing tobacco products, and help other researchers learn the best ways to do their research, he said. They also will provide information to smokers so that they can make more informed choices.

"Some of these companies are being careful about not making health claims, while others are already making claims, so we feel it is a public health priority to find out what these products are all about, how people will use them, and how they will affect exposure to tobacco smoke," Shields said.

Recently, Congress has been considering legislation that will allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA
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