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Sarah Kowitt, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the UNC Department of Family Medicine, was recently awarded a five-year, $762,196 grant by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award (K01 grant) focuses on tobacco regulatory research in youth, specifically on how to communicate the harms of multiple tobacco products that youth may be using—referred to as multiple tobacco product (MTP) use—instead of just one product at a time.

In 2021, nearly one in three youth who used tobacco products used two or more of these products simultaneously, which translates to approximately 580,000 high school students. With most preventative messaging against vaping and smoking only addressing one or the other, Kowitt recognized the importance of addressing both of them simultaneously. “From a public health standpoint, focusing on preventing tobacco use, especially during adolescence and young adulthood when most tobacco use starts, can be one of the best investments for health promotion and disease prevention,” Kowitt states, noting tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S.

The career development award will integrate developing skills and expertise in health communication and experimental research. The importance of Kowitt’s study cannot be said without the fact that in 2021 the success rate for being awarded one of these grants from the NIH was just 31% as stressed by Kowitt’s colleague, Adam Goldstein, MD, MPH, Director of UNC’s Tobacco Intervention Programs. Kowitt’s mentorship team consists of Goldstein (primary mentor), Seth Noar, PhD, MA, and Allison J. Lazard, PhD, MS, who all worked together on UNC’s first Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS) center, as well as James Thrasher, PhD, MA, MS, a leading tobacco researcher from the University of South Carolina.

“I am so excited to get started on this important research to develop and evaluate messages about the harms of multiple tobacco product use among youth,” says Kowitt. As faculty at UNC Family Medicine and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Kowitt’s research focuses on preventing and reducing youth and young adult substance use, including tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol use. She has published more than 55 peer-reviewed papers in journals including Health Affairs, JAMA Network Open, Addiction, Journal of Adolescent Health, Tobacco Control, Nicotine, Tobacco Research, Addictive Behaviors, and Health & Place.