VCU receives federal grants to predict tobacco product regulation outcomes
Virginia Commonwealth University has received a $19.78 million grant to conduct a five-year study to predict the effects of government regulation on tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
The university’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products is receiving the grant from the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.
The center is one of nine across the country that provide research to the federal agencies.
The grant follows a five-year, $18.3 million grant awarded to the center in 2013 to study tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, and to develop evaluation methods to help inform regulatory policy.
“We’re trying to inform regulations that protect the health of nonsmokers who might be encouraged by marketing to try electronic cigarettes or other tobacco products, and also protect the health of smokers by making sure that if they were to use an electronic cigarette in an attempt to get off tobacco cigarettes, that they're not using something that is also harmful to their health,” Thomas Eissenberg, director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products and a professor in the Department of Psychology, said in a statement.
As part of the grant, the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products will test potential regulations of tobacco products in a series of lab studies, some focused on engineering and the mechanics of the product, some focused on “abuse liability” — or how likely users are to become dependent on a product — and some focused on the effects of tobacco products on people who use them.
Under the new grant, the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products will test potential regulations to predict their intended and unintended consequences.
As an example, the center has undertaken preliminary work on a possible rule to limit the nicotine content of an e-cigarette’s liquid to no more than 20 milligrams per milliliter, a current regulation in the European Union.
In the center’s engineering lab, researchers look at how much nicotine comes out from a device filled with e-liquid that has low levels of nicotine. Then what happens when a user ramps up the e-cigarette’s power.
“We have preliminary data that shows the nicotine emission of electronic cigarettes is closely aligned with the power, such that when you double the power you increase the nicotine by more than four times,” Eissenberg said. “Most electronic cigarettes that you see at the drugstore operate at around seven or eight or maybe 10 watts of power, but you can buy some at a vape store that are 70 or even more than 100 watts. You take a 70-watt device and put a 5 milligram liquid in it, you can get way more nicotine from it than you would from a combustible cigarette.”
The engineering lab can analyze what else gets emitted when a user increases an e-cigarette’s power. As it turns out, when e-liquids get overheated, they produce volatile aldehydes, like formaldehyde, which is dangerous for human lungs and also a known carcinogen.
“So the unintended consequences of a regulation like the European Union’s, if you just look at the engineering lab results, is that you get none of the intended effect — because people can ramp up the power and get as much nicotine as they want — and an unintended consequence of dangerous volatile aldehydes, like formaldehyde,” Eissenberg said.
In the abuse liability lab, the regulation is tested to understand how hard people are willing to work an