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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Columbia Participates in World No Tobacco Day

Dr. Daniel Giovenco, assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences, recently began work on a project funded by the National Institutes of Health in which he will examine differences in the promotion of non-cigarette tobacco products across diverse neighborhoods. Preliminary studies with colleagues from Rutgers University suggest that the most risky, combustible tobacco products, such as cigars and cigarillos, are disproportionately advertised in predominantly African American communities, while lower risk products, such as electronic cigarettes, are more heavily promoted in White neighborhoods. Dr. Giovenco will collect field data on product advertising at the point-of-sale, monitor trends in regional tobacco sales, and analyze cross-sectional and longitudinal survey data to assess how the diverse tobacco marketplace may shape disparities in tobacco harm reduction and other complex use behaviors.

[Photo: Dr. Daniel Giovenco]

In February 2017, Dr. Giovenco was invited as an expert speaker to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to present data on population patterns of electronic nicotine delivery systems. He also presented research at the annual meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine & Tobacco in Florence, Italy, and hosted a webinar for government health employees on community-level strategies to combat non-cigarette tobacco product use. Dr. Giovenco is an associate editor at the journal Tobacco Regulatory Science.

Dr. Steven Stellman, professor of Epidemiology, recently reported on use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use in 472 adolescents ten years after direct exposure to the World Trade Center terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan. Dr. Stellman and his colleagues at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that a history of smoking was associated with having witnessed disturbing events on 9/11 and, in the older adolescents, fear for personal safety on 9/11. Increased reports of drinking and marijuana use were also associated with witnessing disturbing events, such as seeing people injured or killed.

In a recent commentary on new survey findings showing that over half of men in the Peoples Republic of China smoke cigarettes, Dr. Stellman points out that the Chinese government itself is the world’s largest manufacturer of cigarettes, despite its position as a signatory of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco, which ostensibly commits it to reduction of smoking through a variety of control measures. He notes that one ray of hope is the emergence of anti-smoking organizations in China which, however, must contend with the government’s dual role as promoter and regulator of tobacco production and consumption.

Dr. Merlin Chowkwanyun, is the Mailman School of Public Health’s first Donald H. Gemson Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences. Dr. Chowkwanyun, who is also a member of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health, has constructed and is overseeing a new dataset and website with millions of once-secret documents on industrial poisons ( He is also working with the Truth Initiative on content analysis of social and news media statements related to tobacco.

[Photo: Dr. Merlin Chowkwanyun]

Dr. Ronald Bayer, professor of Sociomedical Sciences, co-wrote an opinion piece featured in STAT News on May 8th where he makes the point that experts are deeply divided about harm reduction and policymakers are faced with a hard choice. While the evidence increasingly suggests that e-cigarettes can reduce the use of tobacco cigarettes there are also concerns that using e-cigarettes for harm reduction might lead adolescents and young adults to take up vaping because it is “less dangerous.”  Read the full article The Shadow of Big Tobacco Looms Over E-Cigarettes and Harm Reduction.

Dr. Neil Schluger, professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and professor of Medicine and chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care at College of Physicians and Surgeons, recently wrote a piece for RealClear Health on the controversy regarding e-cigarettes.  In it, he argues for caution and awareness of the potential both for harm and harm reduction in the adoption of e-cigarette use.  The piece can be found here: Treat E Cigarettes with Extreme Caution to Protect Health.

[Photo: Dr. Neil Schluger]

Dr. Schluger is also senior advisor for Science for Vital Strategies and a co-author of the Tobacco Atlas. The completely revised and updated fifth edition of the Tobacco Atlas, together with its companion website,, aims to be the most comprehensive, informative and accessible resource on the most important and current issues in the evolving tobacco epidemic.

Dr. Peter Messeri, professor of Sociomedical Sciences, has reported on tobacco use in a cohort of persons living with HIV/AIDS residing in the New York City Region for the HIV Health and Human Services Planning Council of NYC.  These results document urgent need for targeting of effective cessation programs for HIV/AIDS populations (CHAIN Report 2012-9, Tobacco Use, Cessation and Medical Provider Intervention, funded under the City’s Ryan White HATEA Grant).

Dr. Messeri, who was part of the original research team to evaluate the American Legacy Foundation’s truth campaign, continues to have this role with the Initiative.