Researcher Discusses Work on Tobacco-Related Cancer Disparities

Published on March 7, 2012

Updated on February 13, 2018

This month we spoke with Jennifer Warren, PhD, CTTS, who received a fellowship from the Foundation in spring 2007 to design and test a smoking cessation website for urban African Americans.  We caught up with her to learn about her research on disparities in tobacco-related cancer and the impact of the Foundation’s funding on her career.

1.  What led you to the field of tobacco-related cancer research?

As a PhD candidate at Pennsylvania State University, I was very interested in substance use among ethnic minorities. At that time, my research focused on school-based prevention, but it also included access to prevention resources in urban communities and the relevance of substance use prevention information. After finishing my degree, I joined the Program in Health Disparities Research at the University of Minnesota (UMN) Medical School as a health communication scientist.

My primary mentor at UMN, Kola Okuyemi, MD, MPH, taught me a lot about disparities in tobacco-related cancer that I, previously a smoker of 27 years, did not know, such as:

  • African Americans were carrying a disproportionate burden of tobacco-related morbidity and mortality even though they smoked fewer cigarettes per day.
  • Lower-income communities have a high prevalence of tobacco use.
  • Tobacco companies place a large part of their advertisements in low-income African American communities.
  •  Low-income children were more likely to be exposed to environmental tobacco smoke in the home compared to children in higher socioeconomic groups.

Through coursework in the School of Public Health at UMN, I became well acquainted with cancer epidemiology and etiology among African Americans, and it became clear to me that community engagement was needed to reduce these disparities. I decided to dedicate a large portion of my research to addressing these disparities from a health communication perspective.

2.  Tell us about your research on how to reduce the harm of environmental tobacco smoke among young children and how to make smoking cessation programs more accessible for African American adults.

I developed the No Smokin’ Hood website from my research on the use of the internet to deliver relevant and useful smoking cessation information to low-income African Americans who smoke. Preliminary usability evaluation of the No Smokin’ Hood website indicated that 75% would use an internet-delivered intervention.

The website has been designed to enhance health literacy among unmotivated smokers regarding the health risks of tobacco use, the quitting process, and available treatments.  It shares strategies from smokers within the target demographic who have successfully quit, and it motivates smokers to access evidence-based quit-smoking resources in the community. Although some in the audience may have challenges with access to technology, those who are online may find the site useful for identifying cessation treatment options available in their communities.

3.  How did receiving a Prevent Cancer Foundation fellowship impact your research?

Receiving the Foundation fellowship helped me to develop the smoking cessation website. It also allowed me to do a preliminary usability study to assess whether urban African American smokers would use a quit-smoking website. We have found that the answer is yes, if it is made accessible and has utility. Because of the importance of reducing tobacco-related health disparities, Robert Wood Johnson’s Tobacco Dependence Program and the Division of Addiction Psychiatry as well as Rutgers’ Institute for Health are supporting my NIH Career Award grant proposal to further develop the site.  I am interested in developing other mobile and e-health applications to address co-morbidities such as obesity and diabetes among urban African Americans.

4. Why is it important to fund research in the field of cancer prevention and early detection?

This research is important because of so many health disparities and inequities, particularly among low-income minorities. It is a social justice issue for me, to level the playing field. I was truly grateful for the opportunity to have the Prevent Cancer Foundation fund my research focused on reducing tobacco-related health disparities.

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