Skip Navigation
National Cancer Institute

Laboratory Assessment of Tobacco Use Behavior and Exposure to Toxins Among Users of New Tobacco Products Promoted to Reduce Harm

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) awarded a five year, $15 million Research and Development contract on September 15, 2006 to Georgetown University (PI: Dr. Peter Shields). The purpose of this contract is to advance scientific knowledge about the toxic and addictive properties of tobacco products marketed by the tobacco industry with claims that imply reduced harm.

In particular, this contract will support research to study the chemical and physical properties of different tobacco products, characterize the ways in which people's behavior affects their exposure to tobacco toxins, and develop methods and biomarkers to measure exposure and risk for tobacco-related diseases. The methods and findings developed under this contract will be made available to a wide range of stakeholders, including the scientific and public health communities, government, policy markers, and the general public.

The scientific methods and resources developed under this contract with Georgetown University will provide essential research infrastructure and leadership to enable scientific advancement worldwide around tobacco products. This contract will support collaborative multidisciplinary research, drawing on expertise from many areas, from chemistry and toxicology to behavioral sciences and epidemiology.

In recent years, tobacco companies have introduced many new products with implied and explicit claims that they are less harmful or deliver lower amounts of toxic and cancer-causing substances than conventional tobacco products. However, little is known about what these new products are made of, how people actually use them (e.g., alone or in addition to regular cigarettes), or how they will impact individual health and the overall health of the population.

The need for research on these potential reduced-exposure products (PREPs) has been identified by scientific experts, public health organizations, and policy makers. In June 2003, two Congressional hearings cited the need for scientific information from NCI on different types of tobacco products. NCI advisory groups and planning documents have also specifically identified the need for research related to tobacco products promoted to reduce harm.

The anticipated products of this contract include:

  • systematic reviews and synthesis of scientific information on tobacco product design, patterns of use, emissions of toxins, and biomarkers of exposure and harm
  • a set of standardized methods and protocols for tobacco product testing
  • an array of validated biomarkers of tobacco exposure and early biological effects of tobacco-related health outcomes be used in clinical trials and other human studies
  • a repository of biological samples for use in ongoing and future research
  • a Web database of laboratory methods, relevant findings, and reports for use by the scientific community, regulatory agencies, and the public worldwide

The full title of this contract is "Laboratory Assessment of Tobacco Use Behavior and Exposure to Toxins Among Users of New Tobacco Products Promoted to Reduce Harm."