NIDA, Fogarty work to reduce smoking in Argentina

July / August 2015 | Volume 14, Issue 4

By Cathy Kristiansen

Argentines have a long history of smoking tobacco - and their health pays a price. To quantify the impact and study how best to encourage the population to kick the habit, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Fogarty have funded several projects to produce data, test interventions and develop Argentine expertise in tobacco research.

Woman lights cigarette while walking down sidewalk
Photo by David Snyder for Fogarty

NIH's NIDA and Fogarty have helped
researchers produce evidence and
expertise to reduce smoking in Argentina.

The NIH efforts coincided with a shift in public opinion. The percentage of people using tobacco has fallen from 35 to 20 percent since 2002. "The reduction in smoking is huge progress," said Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable, of the University of California, San Francisco, who led NIH investigations in Argentina. "We have seen a transformation in attitudes and approaches to tobacco, which is good."

To help provide policymakers with evidence, one analysis forecast heart health improvement if Argentina actually enforced its strict tobacco control laws. Using an established disease modeling system, Pérez-Stable and his team showed that between 2012 and 2020, the laws could protect the population from 7,500 coronary heart disease deaths, nearly 17,000 myocardial infarctions and 4,300 strokes. Those numbers would roughly double if higher tobacco taxes were implemented, the team demonstrated.

In time, the government has begun to enforce its laws establishing smoke-free public environments and tobacco advertising bans in the mainstream media. But some cigarette firms have turned to the Internet instead. Pérez-Stable's team surveyed medical students and newly graduated physicians because of their potential to help patients stop smoking and found nearly 20 percent had been exposed to cigarette promotions online. Advertising restrictions should extend to Internet sites and social media, the researchers suggested.

Several NIDA/Fogarty projects have highlighted an understudied population - indigenous youth - and factors that encouraged one-fifth of them to take up smoking. Some influences, such as having a risk-taking attitude and having a friend who smoked, are common the world over, but others were tied to ceremonial use of tobacco or being the brunt of racial insults. The team designed a school-based intervention, the impact of which is still being assessed, that nurtures cultural appreciation through sports and art activities. The work was led by Pérez-Stable, who recently accepted a position to direct NIH's National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD).

Another long-term impact of the NIH projects in Argentina is the expertise that has been developed through support of graduate-level training of a number of Argentine scientists, as well as a course on treating tobacco addiction, modified to suit local population needs.

The NIH's National Cancer Institute (NCI) also helped fund the work in Argentina.

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