University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

UCSF Center to Host Symposium on Tobacco Research and Education

By Shipra Shukla, UCSF Today | February 18, 2009

Tobacco affects about a billion lives globally each year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco kills about half of those who use it. Most of tobacco's damages don't become apparent until decades after a person begins using it.

On Friday, Feb. 20, the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education is hosting its annual symposium, "It's About a Billion Lives: Advances in Tobacco Control - Celebrating Tobacco Research and Education at UCSF."

The symposium will bring together thought leaders from around the country to examine the latest implications of tobacco's effects on health and policy. The event is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Health Sciences West building, room 300, on the Parnassus campus. For more information about the symposium, contact Jenni Alexander at 415/502-6341 or visit the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education website.

Ruth Malone, RN, PhD, professor and vice chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the UCSF School of Nursing and editor of Tobacco Control, will provide a critical analysis of the current strategies of the tobacco industry. Her talk, titled "The Tobacco Industry: Corporate Social Responsibility?", looks at the efforts being made by tobacco companies to change their image.

"Tobacco companies are now engaged in a variety of corporate social responsibility activities, but our work - drawing on their own internal documents - shows that these efforts are really designed to market company image, protect profits and discourage regulation," said Malone. "They are also designed to create new alliances with recipients of industry funding and to divide public health advocates."

Efforts to counter marketing efforts often lie at the grassroots policy level.

"Decades of experience and our research have shown that the real power against Big Tobacco rests at the grass roots, where the politicians are most sensitive to what the public wants and least sensitive to campaign contributions from the tobacco industry," said Stan Glantz, PhD, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. "That is why I focus on studying the dynamics of campaigns and the health effects of the policies that they generate."

Culture of Smoking
Even with policies in place, tobacco control efforts are highly susceptible to the impact of societal norms and culture, Glantz said. For example, the prevalence of tobacco use in mental health facilities is striking. "There is a misconception that those who have mental illness are somehow different and that they need to smoke or cannot quit," said Judith Prochaska, PhD, MPH, assistant adjunct professor of psychiatry at UCSF and member of the Tobacco Control Program at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Many psychiatric treatment facilities allow smoking and will sometimes use cigarettes as a way to encourage patient compliance with treatment."

The idea of using cigarettes as a reward for taking medication is a contradiction. Neal Benowitz, MD, professor of medicine, psychiatry, biopharmaceutical sciences and clinical pharmacy at UCSF and co-leader of the Tobacco Control Program at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, says that smoking actually lowers the blood levels of some psychiatric medications because tar in tobacco smoke accelerates the metabolism of many medications, resulting in the need for higher doses for psychiatric patients who smoke.

Read more at Shipra Shukla, UCSF Today