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Grant to focus on eliminating tobacco-related inequities among Black tobacco users

First-of-its-kind study to develop road map for change.

Black woman smoking Photo: Getty Images

By Brian McNeill

Mignonne C. Guy, Ph.D., an associate professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, has been awarded $845,000 for a three-year project, “Eliminating Systemic Racism in Commercial Tobacco Control Research,” from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Mignonne GuyTobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, and, among all racialized and ethnic groups, Black people continue to bear the greatest burden, Guy said. Every year, 45,000 Black people in the U.S. die prematurely from tobacco-caused diseases, with 85% of these deaths attributed to smoking menthol cigarettes. These preventable deaths, she said, are markers of social and health injustice.

Public health research and practice have a long history of promoting social justice initiatives but have made insufficient progress in promoting socially just outcomes, particularly in rooting out racism within research-related systems and institutional practices that perpetuate racialized health inequalities, Guy said. One public health domain, commercial tobacco prevention and control — particularly commercial tobacco-related research — has yielded insufficient progress and inequitable outcomes, she said.

Guy’s study will engage a variety of stakeholders from communities, academic institutions, policymakers, funding agencies and publishing entities from across the nation to develop and disseminate an antiracist and equity-centered research agenda and road map focused on eliminating tobacco-related inequities among Black tobacco users. 

Guy’s co-investigators include Andrew Barnes, Ph.D., an associate professor of health behavior and policy at VCU, research associate at the VCU Massey Cancer Center and affiliate faculty in the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products; and Kelvin Choi, Ph.D., and Faustine Williams, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities in the National Institutes of Health.

The study will be the first of its kind to inform an antiracist road map to guide the full continuum of commercial tobacco research to include conceptualization, funding, conduct, dissemination and implementation.

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