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The passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act) in 2009 gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing and distribution of tobacco products in order to protect public health. In an effort to ensure regulatory actions are based on sound scientific evidence the FDA has since formed an interagency partnership with the National Institute of Health (NIH), which in turn has funded fourteen Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS) across the country. These centers will address a variety of issues including the epidemiology, economics, toxicology, addictions and marketing of tobacco products.

Our TCORS, the UNC Center for Tobacco Regulatory Science and Lung Health, will assess the impact of new and emerging tobacco products (NETPs) on the lung’s innate defenses. The body’s innate defense system acts as a physical and chemical barrier against invading pathogens and is comprised of a variety of anatomical barriers, secretory molecules and cellular components. Previous studies have shown that exposure to cigarette smoke dehydrates airway surface liquid and mucus and results in an increased incidence of viral infections. While these findings are known for cigarettes, little is known about the effect of alternative tobacco products, such as little cigars and hookahs. As a result, these products are not subjected to the same level of marketing restrictions and taxes designed to protect public health. The UNC Center for Tobacco Regulatory Science and Lung Health is specifically designed to fill in this gap by systematically testing NETPs to determine their effect on lung health.