New grants aim to stamp out smoking

Clearway Minnesota supplied six grants for the “U” to study smoking prevention.

Mike Rose

Long, grueling landscape work under the sweltering summer sun led sophomore Mike Dosedel to join an estimated 666,000 other Minnesotans as a smoker.

“It was a pick-me-up and a great way to get a break from work,” said Dosedel, who has twice unsuccessfully tried to quit during the past five months.

Now, six grants worth more than $1.5 million are headed the University’s way, earmarked for studying various aspects of tobacco addiction and developing strategies to help Dosedel and others quit.

ClearWay Minnesota, a nonprofit formed in 1998 through the state’s tobacco settlement funds, announced on Nov. 19 a list of 11 grants valued at $2.8 million – more than half of which will be going to the University -that will go toward various smoking-cessation studies across the state.

The University Medical School, department of epidemiology and department of family medicine are all set to receive at least one grant, which range from 12 months to 36 months in length.

“These grants really serve to build our science and knowledge base on how to best help people quit smoking,” Barbara Schillo, ClearWay director of research, said.

The grants going to the University have specific targets for study, so researchers can evaluate if smoking problems are different across different ages, racial and socioeconomic groups.

For instance, University researchers will study tobacco prevention among Latino youths and the effects of second-hand smoke in black communities. Other studies will be focused on specific market segmentations as well.

“Investigators will be working to disseminate the information back to the communities they’re working with,” Schillo said.

This is the sixth time since 2000 the University has received grants from ClearWay. Schillo said she expected the various projects to get started early next year.

“We feel that we have been quite successful in partnering with the University over the last seven years,” she said.

Dr. Jasjit Ahluwalia, who directs clinical research for University health sciences, will be overseeing a number of the grants.

“I think it’s a phenomenal program,” he said. “It takes what’s here local and allows people to study it and do real quality science.”

He also has his name on a grant entitled Motivating Patients in Primary Care to Utilize the Minnesota Helpline, which will attempt to inspire adult smokers in primary care facilities through phone-based intervention.

Ahluwalia compared the idea to someone gaining confidence about a New Year’s Resolution as they talk out their concerns with a friend.

“We’re trying to use a counseling technique,” Ahluwalia said. “The counselor has much less talk-time and the client does more talking.”

Carla Berg, a University postdoctorate associate, will be studying college students at St. Cloud State and St. Cloud Tech for two years.

After her study is complete, she said she hopes to have data on what segments of the youth population are most likely to smoke and what might help get them to quit.

“I think (the grants) speak to Minnesota really being at the cutting edge of smoking research,” Berg said.

The American Heart Association estimated in 2004 that 46 million Americans were smokers.

A group of researchers showed 18 percent of Minnesotans were smokers in the same year, the most recent time comprehensive data was published.

Dosedel said he hopes to soon leave those ranks. Going cold-turkey and using Nicorette Gum both failed him, so he said this set of grants seemed like a positive step in creating new methods for people looking to quit.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Dosedel said. “A lot more people smoke than would really choose to.”