University of Oxford PhD Studentship ~ Developing and testing peer-led interventions to promote switching from smoking to vaping.

Developing and testing peer-led interventions to promote switching from smoking to vaping.

PhD Studentship ~ Closing date: 26th May 2017

Applications are invited from individuals with a strong academic record who wish to develop a career in behavioural or primary care research. The student will join the thriving Health Behaviours team in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences who are working on range of interventions to support harm reduction and smoking cessation.

The project: The rise in popularity of electronic cigarettes (‘e-cigarettes’) in recent years has been accompanied by a growth in the number of virtual ‘vaper’ communities, with people sharing their advice and experiences of e-cigarettes with peers on internet support groups and discussion forums, many of which address ways of reducing or stopping smoking. The rise of peer to peer support is unique to e-cigarettes; no other means of stopping or reducing smoking attracts such passionate engagement from members of the public. This raises the possibility that we could better harness this peer support to enable more people to reduce or stop smoking using e-cigarettes and this project examines this. Continue reading

How safe is vaping? Media coverage, dilemmas and solutions in work and social spaces

As part of on-going work in relation to tobacco harm reduction, Knowledge-Action-Change is organising a series of dialogues, to examine the often contentious issues that attach to the use of electronic cigarettes, or vaping, in workplaces, places of entertainment and public spaces.

The series entitled ‘How safe is vaping? Media coverage, dilemmas and solutions in work and social spaces’ will take place:
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Why these dialogues now?

There is still a lot of debate between scientists and policy makers about the nature, use and safety of nicotine containing products. The media has produced a lot of stories about e-cigarettes, not all of them either accurate, or supported by scientific evidence. Nonetheless these stories have an impact and can influence peoples’ thinking and reactions on issues. This dialogue is a place where everyone can bring their concerns, air them and hopefully become better informed about the products and their use.

Most vapers are former smokers who have switched to this safer way to use nicotine. Professionals working in public health largely accept that this is a much safer form of behaviour – for users and those around them – but there remain concerns about the impact of their use in some circumstances and in this dialogue we aim to identify some of these and try to address them.

What are the dialogues?

These short events are designed to enable interactive discussion and debate – involving public health professionals, academics and scientists, policy makers, consumers, owners and managers of premises and members of the public – on a range of issues surrounding the increasing use of safer nicotine products (including e-cigarettes) as an alternative to smoking.

During each dialogue a panel of speakers, representing different interests, each make short presentations, addressing different issues relating to e-cigarette use. Q&A and discussion involving the audience follow the presentations.

The dialogues are filmed with the proceedings posted on the web, with the aim of providing information to those who might be interested in the subject and to assist those charged with making policy in having a cross-section of views to draw upon.

Previous dialogues: Knowledge-Action-Change has produced a number of dialogues to date and some of these can be viewed here.

Cigarette smoking increases coffee consumption: findings from a Mendelian randomisation analysis

Marcus Munafò and his colleagues at the University of Bristol, have looked into the smoking and drinking habits of about 250,000 people. They found that smoking makes you drink more caffeinated drinks, possibly by changing your metabolism so that you break down caffeine quicker, pushing you to drink more to get the same hit.

It’s impossible to do a randomised controlled trial (the most rigorous kind of scientific trial) when it comes to smoking, because it would be unethical to ask a randomly selected group of people to smoke. The next best thing is to study huge biobanks of health data. These biobanks contain information about people’s genes, diets and lifestyles.
coffee-cigarettes-smoking-400x400.jpgTo explore the relationship between smoking and caffeine, Munafo and his colleagues analysed data from biobanks in the UK, Norway and Denmark. They were particularly interested in people who had inherited a variant of a gene that has already been shown to increase cigarette smoking.

Chain drinking

The team found that people who had this gene variant also consumed more coffee – but only if they smoked. British people with the same variant also drank more tea, although their Danish and Norwegian counterparts didn’t. This is probably due to cultural differences, says Munafò. “People in Norway and Denmark don’t chain drink tea in the same way that people in the UK do,” he says.

The genetic variant seems to influence how much nicotine a person consumes. You can have zero, one or two copies – and each additional copy is linked to an increase in smoking of about one cigarette per day. Each copy also appears to increase coffee consumption by 0.15 cups per day.

“You could extrapolate from that and say that if you smoked 10 cigarettes per day more than the next person, you would be drinking the equivalent of about one and a half extra cups of coffee per day,” says Munafò. He is wary of doing so, though, because the amount of nicotine a person gets from a cigarette will depend on the type of cigarette and the way it is smoked.

The gene variant codes for a nicotine receptor, which is not known to directly interact with caffeine. This suggests that cigarette smoking increases caffeine consumption and not the other way around.

“The team have used a rather clever technique to establish causality, which normally you wouldn’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of doing with an epidemiological study,”

Robert West – University College London.

What’s the link?

There’s a chance that cigarette smoking and caffeine consumption are linked through habit – that smokers tend to pair the two. But Munafò thinks that the nicotine in cigarettes might also influence the way a person metabolises caffeine. “It’s possible that smokers metabolise caffeine more quickly,” he says. If that is the case, smokers might need to consume more caffeine to get the same effects that a non-smoker would experience.

It’s also possible that the apparent link between smoking and coffee drinking could be down to some unknown function of the genetic variant, says West. “It evolved for a purpose, and it wasn’t to smoke,” he says.

A relationship between smoking and coffee might make it harder for smokers to quit, says Munafò. If a smoker stops smoking, but continues to drink plenty of coffee, they might start to experience unpleasant side effects, such as jitteriness. This might be misinterpreted as a symptom of smoking withdrawal, says Munafò. His team plans to investigate this.

newscience
By Jessica Hamzelou

Journal reference: bioRxiv, DOI: 10.1101/107037

Report launch: New issues and age-old challenges: a review of young people’s relationship with tobacco | 27/02/17

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Join Prof Amanda Amos and Prof Marcus Munafo to discuss the current landscape, challenges and opportunities including a focus on young people, tobacco and mental health.

Please book your free please here>

The face of youth smoking in the UK is evolving.  Young people are growing up in a society radically disrupted by new technologies and societal norms, which are reshaping their perceptions of personal health, image, and values.

New issues and age-old challenges: a review of young people’s relationship with tobacco, brings together the available evidence on youth smoking and articulates a clear demand for action across the system.

Martin Dockrell from Public Health England will chair the panel session.

Full agenda is available here>

Thinking about Drinking: A Year in the Life of an Alcohol Researcher at Stirling

Niamh was active in helping the media understand the implications of theniamhfitzgerald 2016 new alcohol guidelines. In this blog post she discusses what happened as a result of the publication of the new guidelines and how the media portray the facts in their own way.

By Niamh Fitzgerald, Research Profile, @NiamhCreate

Journalists love a good alcohol story, especially at this time of year, and January 2016 gave them the ideal ammunition with the publication of new advice from the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) designed to provide people with ‘accurate information and clear advice about alcohol and its health risks’.  For the first time, the guidance advised that ‘no level of regular drinking can be considered completely safe’ and advised the same limit for both men and women – not to regularly drink above 14 units of alcohol (about 1 and a half bottles of wine) per week, at the same time moving away from the previous daily limits.  The guidance was based on a lengthy process involving experts from around the UK including Prof. Gerard Hastings (from Stirling) and followed emerging evidence on the links between alcohol and cancer – kicking off a furore of media coverage.

Media coverage following the publication of the new guidelines

The Daily Mail led with the news that the guidelines would ‘put a stop to the belief that red wine is good for you in moderation, while the Sun also focused on this ‘plonk lovers’ shock’ as the CMO’s ‘rubbished’ the supposed health benefits of wine.

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Others focused on the cancer risk, with the Scotsman leading with ‘drinkers at risk of cancer from single glass of wine’; whereas the Telegraph headline was ‘health chiefs attacked for nanny state alcohol guidelines’.  It was a frantic week for colleagues and I at the Institute for Social Marketing (ISM) as we sought to capture all of the newspaper, television and radio coverage for future analysis.  As Lecturer in Alcohol Studies at ISM, and lead for teaching and public engagement on alcohol for the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS), I was interviewed about the new guidelines on BBC News for their ‘Ask This’ feature, which takes questions from viewers.  I also had a comment piece published in The Scotsman. Continue reading

Clearing the air around e-cigarettes

Fears that “vaping” is a gateway to tobacco smoking are unfounded, shows a comprehensive review of available evidence on the harms and benefits of electronic or e-cigarettes and vapour devices, released today by University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC) in a report called “Clearing the Air.”

Researchers surveyed the rapidly increasing academic literature on e-cigarettes and found evidence that vaping is replacing—rather than encouraging—the smoking of tobacco cigarettes among young people. The CARBC researchers identified 1,622 articles on the topic, of which 170 were relevant to their review. Evidence shows that tobacco use by youth has been declining while use of vapour devices has been increasing.

“Fears of a gateway effect are unjustified and overblown,” says principal investigator Marjorie MacDonald. “From a public health perspective, it’s positive to see youth moving towards a less harmful substitute to tobacco smoking.”

Among their other observations, CARBC researchers found strong evidence that the vapour from e-cigarettes is less toxic than tobacco cigarette smoke. Vapour devices do not release tar, and vapour emissions contain only eighteen of the 79 toxins found in cigarette smoke, including considerably lower levels of certain cancer causing agents and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Almost all substances tested were substantially lower, or not detected, in vapour devices compared to cigarettes.

In addition, vapour from electronic devices is airborne for less than 30 seconds compared to 18 to 20 minutes for tobacco smoke, substantially reducing the time of second-hand exposure.

Researchers caution, however, that some vapour devices may contain potentially concerning levels of metals and particulate matter, noting that there has been insufficient research regarding some significant carcinogens that may still be present.

Finally, they found encouraging evidence that vapour devices could be at least as effective as other nicotine replacements as aids to help tobacco smokers quit.

“The public has been misled about the risks of e-cigarettes,” concludes Tim Stockwell, CARBC director and co-principal investigator. “Many people think they are as dangerous as smoking tobacco but the evidence shows this is completely false.”

A media kit containing author photos, full report (for media only, not for publication), and an infographic is available on Dropbox. An executive summary is available here.

Click here to read the original story on University of Victoria’s website.

Media contacts:
Tim Stockwell (Director, UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research) at 250-472-5445 or timstock@uvic.ca
Marjorie MacDonald (Scientist, UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research/Nursing) at 250-472-4399 or marjorie@uvic.ca
Suzanne Ahearne (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6139 or sahearne@uvic.ca

Strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer, but how does the public interpret this information?

“Strong epidemiological evidence concerning the causal role of alcohol consumption in cancer may not fit easily with complex lay understandings of the causes of ill health”

Commentary to: Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer

Connor [1] argues there is strong epidemiological evidence that alcohol causes cancer but highlights uncertainty about how this message may be understood by the ‘wider public’. We agree that there is public confusion and scepticism about public health advice on drinking, and that alcohol industry actors will seek to exploit this by ‘framing’ the debate in ways which further their commercial interests [2, 3]. However, there is also a pressing need to take into account the wider social context in which any new scientific evidence is introduced [4].

People have multi-factorial understandings of the causes of chronic disease which encompass family history, environmental factors, stress and luck, as well as behavioural factors such as smoking and drinking; these factors are perceived as interconnecting, rather than independent, and may become more or less salient at particular points in the life-course [5, 6]. Davison and colleagues [7, 8] argue that, in an iterative process similar to formal epidemiology, ‘lay’ epidemiologists extract information from mainstream health messages and observe patterns of illness and death among family, friends, acquaintances and those in public life to generate and reformulate hypotheses about ‘candidates’ for particular health problems. Gender, age and socio-economic status are also relevant here [9, 10]. Crucially, uncertainty is a key feature of lay epidemiology; some ‘candidates’ are observed to ‘do all the wrong things’ but live long lives (‘unwarranted survivals’: ‘the fat “Uncle Norman” figure who has survived into a healthy old age, despite extremely heavy smoking and drinking’) ([5], p. 682), while other people lead apparently ‘healthy’ lives but still suffer premature illness or death (‘anomalous deaths’). The ‘anomalous death’ of a relative is particularly important in undermining epidemiological evidence about risk factors for major diseases [11].

There are a number of reasons why the message ‘alcohol causes cancer’ may not fit easily with lay epidemiology. First, candidacy only indicates increased risk—not an inevitable outcome–so a message which emphasizes certainty rather than probability may be disregarded. Research investigating the acceptability of cancer warning messages among Australian drinkers [12] suggests that statements about alcohol leading to an ‘increased risk of cancer’ performed better than those which stated that alcohol ‘can cause cancer’.

Secondly, lay epidemiology encompasses an understanding of the different meaning of risk factors at the population and individual level: ‘most people have notions about what renders a person “a candidate” for a specific disease [incorporating “expert” epidemiological understandings of risk at the population level] whilst simultaneously understanding that life, health and death defy prediction at an individual level’ ([11], p. 445). Thus, simple health messages which focus exclusively upon behavioural risk factors at an individual level draw attention to ‘unwarranted survivals’ and particularly to ‘anomalous deaths’ in people’s social networks. The observation that behavioural change does not guarantee a reduction of risk at an individual level (mirroring epidemiological concerns about the ‘prevention paradox’) [11, 13] may therefore result in public scepticism.

Thirdly, while smokers are currently viewed as ‘candidates’ for cancer, it appears that drinkers are not; lay people struggle to find an explanation for non-smokers who develop cancer and instead emphasize the unpredictability and randomness of the disease [14]. Finally, it is important to explore how terms such ‘drinkers’ and ‘drinking’ might be interpreted by the wider public. While ‘smoking causes cancer’ draws on the commonly understood binary opposition between smokers and non-smokers, ‘drinking causes cancer’ may well be understood as comparing ‘heavy’ drinkers with ‘light’ or ‘moderate’ drinkers, rather than contrasting drinkers with non-drinkers. Qualitative research in the United Kingdom demonstrates that drinking is perceived as a routine activity associated with sociability, pleasure and relaxation and that heavy weekend drinking and drinking to intoxication are normalized; thus, drinking alone or choosing not to drink alcohol are behaviours which require explanation, not excessive drinking in general [13, 15-17]. In addition, people construct themselves as responsible, moderate drinkers and position other groups as the ‘problematic’ drinkers. For example, respondents in mid-life portray themselves as ‘experienced’ drinkers and younger people as irresponsible ‘problem’ drinkers [15], younger adults position older people, especially older women drinking heavily in public, as problematic [18], while younger middle-class women position working class women as vulgar and excessive drinkers [19]. This suggests that ‘drinking causes cancer’ may be interpreted as ‘other people’s excessive drinking causes cancer’.

Connor demonstrates the strength of the evidence for alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer. Further research on how lay people conceptualize drinkers and drinking when assessing candidacy is necessary before this message can be communicated effectively to the public.

Declaration of interests

C.E. is a member of the Alcohol Research UK Grants Advisory Panel and has received research funding from Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems. S.M. has no competing interests to declare.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Kate Hunt, Charlie Davison, Una Macleod and Graham Watt for previous conversations about lay epidemiology, and to Penny Buykx for useful suggestions for literature for this commentary.

Original post with references.

Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer – Full Study