$20 Million in Research Funding Boosts African American Studies

February 21, 2014

African American Studies faculty, Drs. Aashir Nasim and Mignonne Guy, are investigators on federal and foundation research grants totaling over $20 million.

The majority of this funding is sponsored by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support research examining young adults’ use of conventional (e.g., cigarettes and cigars) and emerging tobacco products (e.g., electronic cigarettes and hookah). Other funding from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY) supports efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of tobacco use prevention programs for K-12 students enrolled in Virginia’s public schools.

 Perhaps the most significant of these awards is a recent grant from the NIH to create VCU’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products (Robert Balster and Tom Eissenberg, Co-PIs) where Dr. Nasim is Project Director on a series of studies examining young adults’ perceptions of so-called modified risk tobacco products like electronic cigarettes.  

 “Unfortunately, tobacco use prevalence rates among African American young adults are influenced primarily by their misperceptions about the relative health risks associated with cigars and hookah compared to cigarettes.

 Smoking one cigar can easily expose smokers to harmful toxicant concentrations that far exceed what several cigarettes might deliver. And, a single episode of hookah smoking, on average involves inhaling smoke equivalent between 60 to 160 cigarettes” says Dr. Nasim.

These misperceptions are compounded further by the introduction of novel tobacco products, such as e-cigarette and e-hookah, which come in a variety of enticing flavors and packages.

According to Dr. Guy, “Simply because a tobacco-containing product is labeled as cherry, mocha or piña colada doesn’t mean it is any safer than a product labeled as light, low-tar or mild. In fact, the role of flavors such as menthol (i.e., mint flavoring) in tobacco-containing products may accelerate dependence and increase exposure to smoke toxicants, especially among African Americans.”

Despite the sobering elements of their research, Drs. Nasim and Guy are most excited about the role these grant awards have served in providing African American Studies students with valuable research internship experiences in clinical laboratory and community settings.

“The exponential increase in grant-generated revenues to our department the past two years has resulted in the development of new academic programs, scholarships and support systems for all of our students.

 It has been our position all along that faculty scholarship can raise the academic profile of this department. And, I am delighted to see this revealed in the students we are preparing for graduate school and the 21st century workforce” says Dr. Nasim.

“Ultimately, they will be the one’s who solve these challenging questions related to African American health and health disparities.”