Every year, more than 400,000 people in the U.S. and nearly 800,000 people in China die from smoking-related diseases, while millions more suffer the effects of alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
The Pacific Rim Transdisciplinary Tobacco & Alcohol Use Research Center engages in research in both countries. It focuses on the nations’ culturally diverse youth as it examines neurocognitive, genetic, environmental, social, and cultural factors influencing tobacco and alcohol use behavior in order to develop more effective prevention programs.
A collaborative effort, the center joins the newly formed School of Community and Global Health at Claremont Graduate University with research partners at the University of Southern California, SRI International, and the municipal Centers for Disease Control in three of China’s largest cities: Chengdu, Qingdao, and Wuhan.
The PR TTAURC’s specific aims are to investigate the efficacy of tobacco and alcohol use prevention programs (1) across cultures, (2) within specific cultural and environmental contexts, and (3) among individuals, explicitly examining the role of neurocognitive attributes and genetics across these three areas.
Neurocognitive and genetic studies that fail to properly account for the environmental, social, and cultural contexts in which tobacco and alcohol use behaviors occur will likely be unsuccessful in identifying and characterizing key traits. Likewise, studies that focus solely on such factors as knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and social norms may reach incorrect conclusions if they do not consider individual differences such.
Insight into malleable environmental, social, and cultural risk factors provides strong targets for public health intervention at the population level. Understanding the neurocognitive and genetic contribution to these factors, however, is imperative in uncovering the underlying etiology at the individual level.
In addition, a population-level public health intervention that appears to have weak effects overall might indeed have strong effects among a subgroup of the population. It is important, therefore, to investigate individual differences in responsiveness to prevention programs.
In pursuing this research, the PR TTAURC fosters the integration of theories and methods from various disciplines, thereby bridging their unique perspectives to create innovative ways of tackling complex research questions.
Among the disciplines represented by our researchers are social, experimental, clinical, and health psychology; genetic and molecular epidemiology; neuroscience and neurogenetics; quantitative genetics; psychometrics; education; communication; health behavior; statistics; nutritional epidemiology; public health; medicine; sociology; and health policy.
Investigators at Claremont Graduate University
C. Anderson Johnson Director and Principal Investigator of the Pacific Rim Transdisciplinary Tobacco & Alcohol Use Research Center
Principal Investigator of Project 2
Director of Core 3: Career Development
Director of Core 4: Administrative – Scientific Liaison
Jennifer B. Unger, Ph.D.
Co-Principal Investigator, PR TTAURC
Principal Investigator of Project 1
Co-Director of Core 3: Career Development
Co-Director of Core 4: Administrative – Scientific Liaison
The initial studies conducted by the TTAURC between 1999 and 2004 focused on characterizing the role of culture in tobacco use behavior and prevention. The research from those studies indicated that cultural context and individual disposition have potentially important moderator effects on prevention programs. The PR TTAURC extends this program of research with three projects and four cores.
A study of 600 adolescent twin pairs in Southern California and another 600 twin pairs in Qingdao, China, that quantifies the nature of environmental influences and the extent to which they interact with genetic sources of variation in smoking-related behaviors.
An investigation of the effects that social, genetic, and neurocognitive underpinnings of dispositional characteristics -- particularly hostility and depression -- have on substance use uptake and progression, and how that moderates prevention and cessation program effects.
A study focusing on genetic factors responsible for hostility, depression, and other dispositional attributes. It hypothesizes that these factors may have a significant influence on an individual’s progression toward increased smoking and on his or her responsiveness to tobacco control intervention and prevention programs.
Provides a variety of training opportunities to support the development of the next generation of transdisciplinary scientists to advance our knowledge of the complex social, cultural, biological, and environmental determinants of tobacco use and alcohol co-morbidity.
Provides the scientific and administrative leadership key to the efficient and productive operation of the center.
Other Research Centers
The Pacific Rim Transdisciplinary Tobacco & Alcohol Use Research Center is one of several TTURCs pursuing research around the country. Other institutions participating in this innovative program include:
The PR TTAURC’s parent organization, the School of Community and Global Health, offers multidisciplinary training for master and doctoral students as well as postdoctoral fellows. Students at all levels of training are afforded numerous opportunities for involvement in ongoing research. In addition, researchers at the PR TTAURC and SCGH have developed four innovative programs to equip China’s senior public health leaders and public health managers to meet the challenges of public health practice.