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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.

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.

The center’s Director and Principal Investigator is C. Anderson Johnson.