U researchers to combat tobacco use in India, Indonesia

Seth Rowe

Two University researchers are bringing the fight against tobacco to India and Indonesia, thanks to a pair of federal grants.

Epidemiology professors Cheryl Perry and Harry Lando are two of 14 researchers awarded grants from the Fogarty International Center, a division of the National Institutes of Health. The center has awarded $20 million during a period of five years to work toward decreasing tobacco use in developing countries.

Lando and Perry will be working on separate projects. Lando will conduct research in India and Indonesia, and Perry will help organize an education program in India.

Both will work with collaborators in their chosen countries. The grants require that more than half of the money must be used in those foreign countries.

Although tobacco use has decreased dramatically in the United States, rates are increasing in some developing countries, Lando said.

Lando blames the increase on aggressive marketing by tobacco companies, but Perry blames it on the Westernization of India.

“People are very connected to the Internet and global TV,” said Perry, adding that a group of Indians who recently visited the University were aware of Minnesota politics.

“They’re picking up what’s perceived as the Western lifestyle. Smoking is shown in a lot of shows and movies,” Perry said.

She also pointed out that India’s middle class is growing and can afford more cigarettes.

The increase of tobacco prevalence and tobacco-related diseases will have a global impact, Perry said, which justifies a global effort to prevent its use.

“Epidemic is not too strong a word,” Lando said. “It really is (a disease). People who smoke could be increasing their risk of dying almost by twice at any given time.”

Lando will study tobacco use patterns and look for ways to decrease the rate of its use.

“Primarily our project involves trying to support people quitting,” Lando said.

In contrast, prevention is the goal of Perry’s project.

Six investigators – three from India and three from Minnesota – will be developing new curricula based on programs that Perry said have worked in the United States but will be geared toward Indian culture. The program they develop eventually will be used in approximately 44 schools in three cities in grades six through nine. Approximately 15,000 students will receive the curriculum.

The schools will be public and private and located in urban areas.

“The rise in smoking and heart disease is in urban India,” Perry said.

Perry’s project will adopt a program already tested for a year in India called HRIDAY, which means heart or health in the Hindi language and also stands for Health Related Information Dissemination Among Youth. Researchers will also consider the applicable parts of the Minnesota Smoking Prevention Program.

Perry is planning to call the program MYATI, which means friendship in Hindi and stands for Mobilizing Youth for Action Against Tobacco in India. The program will emphasize peer influence and healthy friendships.

Perry said he expects the rate of heart disease to surpass infectious diseases by 2010. The rate of heart disease has increased with the adoption of Western lifestyle, including smoking, eating more high-fat food and exercising less, Perry said.

The money spent on these programs – approximately $1.5 million for each grant – will go further because of the favorable exchange rate in many of the countries, Perry said.

Grant recipients from other universities will be working in Syria, Argentina, Africa, Cambodia and several other countries.

Seth Rowe welcomes comments at [email protected]