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Seth Noar, PhD, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center member, is leading a five-year, $3.35 million national study to develop and test messages that discourage adolescents from using electronic cigarettes. UNC School of Medicine’s Ilona Jaspers, PhD, is part of the project.

Seth Noar, PhD, professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, has received a five-year, $3.35 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to lead a national study to develop and test messages that discourage adolescents from using electronic cigarettes.

While cigarette smoking has declined among middle and high school students in the U.S., the use of e-cigarettes and vaping among this age group has more than doubled during the past three years. The 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 5.3 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes during a 30 day period. This was up from 2.12 million students in 2017, and some researchers predict the rate of adolescent e-cigarette use will continue to climb.

“The use of e-cigarettes among adolescents is alarmingly high, prompting the FDA to call it an epidemic. It is critically important that we develop evidence-based health communication approaches to strengthen young people’s commitment to avoid vaping and prevent subsequent nicotine addiction,” Noar said. “To date, there have been a dearth of efforts to systematically develop and study communication approaches to effective e-cigarette and vaping prevention. Our study aims to address this gap.”

Noar, a member of UNC Lineberger’s cancer prevention and control program, said this new study has three aims: Identify promising ways to communicate with adolescents to prevent e-cigarette use; develop a set of e-cigarette prevention messages that reduce adolescents’ desire to try or use e-cigarettes; and use a randomized controlled trial to evaluate whether evidence-based e-cigarette prevention messages sent daily via text message will reduce at-risk adolescents’ willingness to use e-cigarettes.

“We believe our study will enable us to address a critical gap in tobacco control research by developing effective communications that strengthen adolescents’ commitment to avoid e-cigarettes and reduce e-cigarette use,” Noar said. “Our findings will inform local, state, and national efforts to prevent e-cigarette use and nicotine addiction among adolescents.”

A team of doctoral students helped Noar assemble the grant proposal, including Jacob Rohde and Alex Kresovich from UNC Hussman School and Rachel Kurtzman from UNC Gillings, with UNC Lineberger Project Manager Hannah Prentice-Dunn managing the effort. UNC psychology professor Paschal Sheeran, PhD, and Ilona Jaspers, PhD, Director of the Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma, and Lung Biology, are co-investigators on the study.

A national health communications expert, Noar has led several studies focused on using targeted messages to reduce cancer risks, including graphic warning messages on cigarette packages and pairing tanning bed warning messages with images showing longer-term health effects. Last year, the National Cancer Institute awarded Noar a three-year, $1.4 million grant to conduct research focused on improving youth tobacco prevention advertisements via improved metrics for assessing their effectiveness.