Meharry Medical College to Launch New Center for the Study of Social Determinants of Health
Meharry Medical College to Launch New Center
for the Study of Social Determinants of Health
Center’s initial $7.5 million in funding from JUUL Labs, Inc., will be used to conduct
independent research and spearhead public education campaigns
about the health impact of tobacco and nicotine-delivery products
Nashville, Tenn. (June 7, 2019) — Meharry Medical College, the nation’s largest private, independent historically black academic health sciences center, today announced that it will launch the Meharry Center for the Study of Social Determinants of Health. Dedicated to examining social factors that influence public health and wellbeing, the Center’s first initiative will be research and community outreach programs related to the emerging prevalence of e-cigarettes, as well as tobacco and other nicotine-delivery products, particularly in minority communities. This work will be made possible by a five-year, $7.5 million independent research grant from JUUL Labs, Inc.
“Meharry is driven by a mission to improve the health of underserved communities, yet we have historically found ourselves occupying the last seat at the table when research is conducted on emerging public health issues that affect our patients,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College. “The new Center for the Study of Social Determinants of Health will advance our efforts to understand the impact of larger societal issues on health and wellbeing, and there are few issues requiring more research today than the rising prevalence of e-cigarettes, including how they affect young people.”
“The grant from JUUL Labs gives Meharry the unique opportunity to take the lead on a new line of fully independent research in this critical area of public health,” Hildreth continued. “Smoking has had disproportionately negative effects on minority, and particularly African-American, populations for decades. At Meharry, we have been on the front lines of treating those impacted by this scourge and see firsthand how smoking can destroy lives. Our goal is to help set a new course for education, prevention and policy surrounding the use of tobacco and e-cigarettes.”
As part of the grant by JUUL Labs, the Center’s first initiative will involve three primary areas of focus:
- conduct original and independent research on the public health impact of tobacco and nicotine-delivery products,
- convene annual meetings to drive a national conversation on tobacco and nicotine-delivery products, and
- develop public health campaigns to educate the public about the dangers that tobacco and nicotine-delivery products pose to youth.
The new Center will draw on the expertise of Meharry’s schools of medicine, dentistry and graduate studies and research; and its Center for Health Policy, the Lloyd C. Elam Mental Health Center, and Data Science Institute to conduct behavioral and clinical research to examine tobacco and nicotine-delivery products and advance positive changes in behavior and public health policy.
The initiative marks the first time that JUUL Labs has partnered with an academic medical institution to fund an independent research center. Meharry and JUUL Labs have structured the agreement to ensure Meharry’s full autonomy, including sole ownership over the sponsored research and complete control over publication of the findings. Meharry will implement internal vetting procedures to ensure the integrity of all conducted research and has engaged an executive recruiting firm to oversee a nationwide search for a scientist to run the Center.
“Understanding the impact of our products on public health is critical to fulfilling our mission,” said Kevin Burns, CEO of JUUL Labs. “We selected Meharry for this grant because of the college’s deep expertise in health disparities research, and its commitment to serving underserved and vulnerable populations who have been disproportionately impacted by smoking. We exist to eliminate cigarettes and improve the lives of the world’s one billion smokers. In order to achieve that mission, we must learn more about the public health impact of e-cigarettes. We respect Meharry’s focus on bettering the health of the public at large and we are honored to support the Center for the Study of Social Determinants of Health.”
Under the grant from JUUL Labs, the new Center will advance research around the use of tobacco and nicotine-delivery products with a particular emphasis on how these products impact underserved and minority populations and the changes in public policy that can improve health outcomes. Areas of research under consideration:
- Examining the factors, including social determinants, impacting tobacco and nicotine use;
- Studying the disease burden and health effects of tobacco versus alternative nicotine delivery products;
- Assessing the relative impact to third parties of environmental (“secondhand”) exposure to tobacco and alternative nicotine delivery products;
- Exploring the effectiveness of new tools and platforms to educate adults and youth/the public about tobacco and nicotine use; and
- Supporting the development of policy recommendations for tobacco and nicotineproducts, including Tobacco 21 laws.
Center leaders also plan to host annual meetings to drive a national conversation focused on addressing the ongoing smoking epidemic in low income and minority communities and the rising use of e-cigarettes by young people. The meetings will be held in Washington, D.C. and Nashville, Tenn. to engage conversations in both the national hub for public policy and one of the nation’s largest regions for healthcare innovation.
Health Care Outreach
Research findings from the Center will inform the development of a curriculum and outreach program focused on educating youth and adults on tobacco and nicotine products. Youth usage of tobacco and vapor products has broad negative impacts on communities across the country. The youth prevention curriculum will provide healthcare professionals, public health officials and others with new information about the dangers of underage use of tobacco and nicotine products.
About Smoking-Related Health Disparities in Minority Communities
It is widely acknowledged that minority communities, and particularly African-Americans, suffer greater smoking-related health disparities:
- According to the CDC, African Americans smoke fewer combustible cigarettes per day than whites and start smoking cigarettes at a later age. However, they are more likely to die from smoking-related diseases. 1
- In 2015 it was reported that African-American children and adults were more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke compared to any other racial or ethnic group. 1
- Tobacco use contributes to the three leading causes of death among African Americans: heart disease, cancer and stroke. 1
- African Americans who smoke are less successful at quitting than whites and Hispanics despite more attempts to quit.1
- Approximately 77% of African-American smokers typically use menthol cigarettes; research suggests the menthol in cigarettes makes it both easier to start smoking and harder to quit compared to nonmenthol cigarettes, particularly among African American smokers. 2,3
About Meharry Medical College
Meharry Medical College, founded in 1876, is the nation’s largest private, independent historically black academic health sciences center dedicated solely to educating minority and other health professionals. True to its heritage, it is a United Methodist Church-related institution. The College is particularly well known for its uniquely nurturing, highly effective educational programs; emerging preeminence in health disparities research; culturally sensitive, evidence-based health services; and significant contribution to the diversity of the nation’s health professions workforce. Diverse Issues in Higher Education’s ranking of institutions annually lists Meharry as a leading national educator of African Americans with M.D. and D.D.S. degrees and Ph.D. degrees in the biomedical sciences. Visit www.mmc.edu to learn more.
About JUUL Labs, Inc.
JUUL Labs, Inc exists to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes, which remain the leading cause of preventable death around the world. JUUL is an alternative that can help the 34 million adults in this country who still smoke. Non-nicotine users should not buy or use JUUL products. The company is committed to preventing underage access to its products and strongly supports raising the national minimum purchasing age for all tobacco and vapor products to 21. To learn more about JUUL Labs’ comprehensive action plan to combat underage access, appeal, and use of JUUL products, please visit www.juul.com/youth-prevention.
Below, see Dr. Hildreth’s letter to Meharrians:
Dear fellow Meharrians:
I want to share with you important news: Today, Meharry Medical College is launching the Meharry Center for the Study of Social Determinants of Health. Our new Center will advance our mission by exploring the impact of social determinants – including smoking, alcohol use, food instability, and poverty – on underserved communities, and crafting programs and policies to help people lead healthier lives.
Our first initiative at the Center will involve the study of tobacco and nicotine-related products through a five-year, $7.5 million independent research grant from JUUL Labs, Inc. I understand the involvement of JUUL may give pause, just as it first did me. We have, however, spent countless hours airing our concerns with JUUL, and are now confident in moving forward because of the critical importance of the work we will do and the assurance we have that it will be entirely independent.
As someone immersed in the Meharry mission, you are aware that we have historically found ourselves occupying the last seat at the table when research is conducted on emerging public health issues that profoundly affect minority communities. We have paid a heavy price for being shut out. Targeted unscrupulously by the tobacco industry, our community is replete with smokers – six million African Americans nationwide. The diseases that kill or cripple our patients at far higher rates than other populations – hypertension, diabetes, cardio-vascular and lung disease, and cancer – are exacerbated by smoking.
This grant will be a unique opportunity to redress the harm that’s been done, making it possible for Meharry students and researchers to engage in significant, original study of tobacco and nicotine-related products. We will be integrally involved in charting a course for education, prevention and policy relative to their use. We also will address growing trends in the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices among our youth.
We have been explicit with JUUL executives that we must and will always operate with complete autonomy and authority, and will publish our findings independently, no matter the consequences to their company. JUUL has agreed to and endorses these conditions. I can tell you unequivocally that the resources we garner will only be used in the best interests of the people we serve.
The new Center will be housed in the School of Graduate Studies and Research, and we anticipate that research will begin in the fall once the topics have been solidified. We have engaged an executive recruiting firm to conduct a nationwide search to identify a scientist to oversee programs at the Center, and will keep you apprised of the outcome of that search.
I greatly value your ideas, input and dedication to Meharry Medical College and to the people we serve. We are, and always will be, champions for the health and welfare of people whose advocates have been few and far between. No matter where our research takes us or who our supporters are, this will never change. I look forward to updating you on this new initiative and others as we continue to do great work together in Nashville and around the world.
James E.K. Hildreth Sr., Ph.D., M.D.
President and CEO