No one has to remind Ted Wagener, PhD (external link), and his colleagues at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center about the urgency of their work.
“Tobacco use is tied to lung disease, cancer and heart disease—some of the leading causes of death in the United States and around the world,” says Dr. Wagener, an associate professor of Internal Medicine in The Ohio State University College of Medicine who also directs the CTR. “Our multidisciplinary center is enabling us to not only understand and intervene in tobacco use and its effects on negative health outcomes, but to extend our study results to the community for the benefit of all.”
Dr. Wagener believes this work is even more pressing as new tobacco products–such as electronic cigarettes (e-cigs), waterpipes (hookahs) and heat-not-burn products (heated tobacco products)–are continually being developed and marketed with little regulatory oversight or scientific knowledge of potential harm to consumers.
Recognizing the need for collaborative, evidence-based tobacco research, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (external link)– Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) created the CTR in 2020 to consolidate the university’s tobacco research programs.
Through the CTR, tobacco experts from many disciplines–including psychology, epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, health communications, chemistry, biochemistry, cancer biology and law–conduct research aimed at increasing scientific knowledge to help regulate tobacco products in a way that best serves individual and public health interests.
Dr. Wagener, a licensed psychologist who specializes in health psychology/behavioral medicine and co-leads the Cancer Control Program at the OSUCCC – James, focuses his research on tobacco regulatory science, evaluating the behavioral, pharmacological and toxicological effects of cigarette and non-cigarette tobacco products such as e-cigs and hookahs. He also develops and tests motivational, enhancement-based smoking cessation and secondhand smoke-reduction interventions for children of parents who smoke.
His current research examines how youth, young adults and adults use e-cigs; how e-liquids affect the way nicotine is delivered to the brain and other organs; and whether there are ways to reduce e-cigs’ abuse potential for youth but still have them be effective in helping adults stop smoking.
He’s particularly concerned about regulators and public health officials striking the right balance in their regulation of e-cigs.
“The emergence of high nicotine e-cigs presents a dilemma for regulators. While these e-cigs have proven appealing and addictive to youth, emerging evidence suggests they may be even more capable than earlier e-cig models at helping adults stop smoking and exposing users to the lowest levels of harmful chemicals,” Dr. Wagener says. “Our research seeks ways to address this dilemma so we can provide regulators with the science needed to make evidence-based decisions for improving public health.”
Dr. Wagener’s lab also studies the impact of flavors and sweeteners on the initiation and maintenance of hookah smoking, and the possible impact on hookah use among youth and adults if flavors and sweeteners were banned.
“Our work clearly demonstrates that the addition of flavors and sweeteners to hookah tobacco is a key reason why youth and adults smoke this very harmful product,” he adds. “Chemically, flavors and sweeteners also increase the delivery of addictive nicotine from these products, making it even more likely that youth and adults will use them again.”
Dr. Wagener says regulators should move quickly to restrict flavors and sweeteners from all combustible tobacco products, including hookah, an assertion firmly backed by the urgent work of the CTR.