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Melissa Little and Wayne Talcott of UTHSC Receive $418,000 to Study Tobacco Use by Military Recruits

Drs. Wayne Talcott and Melissa Little have received a $418,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study tobacco use by military recruits. (Photo by United States Air Force)

Melissa Little, PhD, and Wayne Talcott, PhD, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) have received a grant totaling $418,000 to study tobacco use by military recruits. Dr. Little is an assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine. Dr. Talcott is a professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine.

Previous studies have shown that 27.1 percent of members of the United States Air Force reported tobacco use prior to enlistment. Products used included cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookah and e-cigarettes. Statistics showed that half of all tobacco users reported using two or more forms of tobacco. Furthermore, e-cigarette use was associated with significantly higher odds of tobacco use.

This issue is significant overall because most trainees in the Air Force believe they will remain tobacco free following the ban during Technical Training (career training after Basic Military Training completion). Unfortunately, a large percentage of these individuals resume or initiate tobacco use.

To address this issue, Drs. Little and Talcott have developed a Brief Tobacco Intervention (BTI) that is currently being implemented as a part of Technical Training. It is highly innovative in that it is the first evaluation of a brief tobacco intervention designed to impact multiple tobacco products simultaneously in a military population at high risk for tobacco use. Additionally, this is the first brief intervention to address the five most commonly used tobacco products in the Air Force — cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookah, e-cigarettes and cigarillos.

“We found that a motivational, interview-based, 40-minute BTI was effective in increasing perceived harm and decreasing intentions to use tobacco products in a sample of 1,055 Air Force trainees,” said Dr. Little. “Although we obtained significant positive changes in latent cognitive constructs for tobacco behavior that are highly predictive of future tobacco use in youth and young adults, we were unable to determine whether the BTI was effective in changing tobacco use. This grant will allow us to test the effectiveness of the BTI on changing actual behavior.”

If successful, the study could have an enormous impact on reducing tobacco use among military personnel and could reduce long-term numbers by 15 to 20 percent.

The project by Drs. Little and Talcott is titled, “Evaluation of a Brief Tobacco Intervention in the U.S. Military.” The funding is from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, and will be distributed over two years. Their research team is partnering with the Air Force under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (11-217-59MDW-CRADA01).