Rutgers awarded $18M for tobacco research center

Matthew Fazelpoor//June 2, 2023//


Rutgers awarded $18M for tobacco research center

Matthew Fazelpoor//June 2, 2023//

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A Rutgers-led consortium was awarded an $18 million grant this week to develop a tobacco surveillance center that will provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with real-time data on tobacco and nicotine marketing, products and consumer behaviors.

The grant money will fund the Rutgers Center of Excellence in Rapid Surveillance in Tobacco, which officially began operations June 1. The five-year grant will enable researchers to rapidly identify and analyze critical information in real time that can assist in any potential regulatory and enforcement actions taken by the FDA.

Cristine Delnevo, director of the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies and principal investigator of the rapid surveillance center, said that nothing like this has ever been attempted before now.

“No one has collected such comprehensive information, let alone organized and disseminated it rapidly,” she said in a press release. “We think it will provide the FDA with meaningful and timely data to inform their congressionally authorized regulation of the tobacco market.”

In addition to Delnevo, the rapid surveillance project will include seven other faculty members from the Center for Tobacco, which launched in 1999, as well as 13 co-investigators from Roswell Park Cancer Institute, East Carolina University, Stanford University, the University of Kentucky, Ohio State University, Columbia University and Westat Inc.

Pulling information from various data sources, researchers will:

  • Collect information from marketing company databases, tobacco-maker websites, social media and merchant outlets to spot new marketing strategies.
  • Analyze retail scanner data to track tobacco-product sales and spot trends involving new product characteristics such as innovative flavors or delivery mechanisms.
  • Triangulate responses from surveys of youth, young adults and adults who use tobacco and nicotine products to understand preferences and behaviors.
  • Synthesize data to identify meaningful trends early and provide the FDA with actionable information to improve its regulation of tobacco products.


Cristine Delnevo has been appointed to the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee

Delnevo cited the rapid rise of e-cigarette use among young people, sparked by the popularity of JUUL, as an example of the type of real-time data and trend-spotting that this project can provide to regulators.

“The signals about JUUL’s popularity with youth were there as early as 2017, but without identifying early, meaningful signals and subsequently implementing nationally representative large surveys with appropriate measures, it took much longer to evaluate the problem,” Delnevo explained. “Successful rapid surveillance will facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the problem in a timely manner.”

No one has collected such comprehensive information, let alone organized and disseminated it rapidly.
— Cristine Delnevo, director, Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies

The bid from the Rutgers-led consortium, which beat out several competing proposals, touted not only its proposed surveillance methodology but also its deep expertise in tobacco surveillance across all categories of tobacco products and its history of spotting trends early.

Investigators from the Rutgers consortium have vast experience beyond just cigarettes with members including some of the world’s leading experts on cigars, e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches and other tobacco products that have grown in popularity.

“Every aspect of this market is constantly evolving,” Delnevo added. “The goal here is to shorten the time between identifying a signal and fully understanding it since these large data systems that FDA and CDC rely on are difficult to modify quickly to capture emerging tobacco products. Rapid tobacco surveillance will help FDA not only with appropriate enforcement and regulatory responses but will also help evaluate the impact of pending policy changes.”