The first tobacco and nicotine research center to come out of the California tobacco tax is about to open at UC Merced.
The UC Nicotine and Cannabis Policy Center has a $3.8 million grant to study the public health impacts of both tobacco and marijuana, with a focus on the San Joaquin Valley. The funding comes from Proposition 56, the two-dollar-per-pack tobacco tax increase that took effect in 2017.
Anna Song, a UC Merced health psychology professor, will direct the project, which is expected to be up and running this fall.
“The center is a representation of basically experts in the community as well as the science coming together to address our regional issues,” she said.
Though it’s backed by state dollars, Song said the center will focus pretty specifically on the San Joaquin Valley, with the goal of sharing research with experts throughout California.
Researchers want to know who is using tobacco and marijuana, how they’re consuming it, and how it affects long-term health. They’ll also explore the rise in youth users and the prevalence of e-cigs and other devices.
Song said the overlap between tobacco and marijuana, and how certain policies — for example, smoke-free cities — affect either or both substances, opens new doors for research.
“We felt it’s really important to look at both [cannabis and tobacco], and see how the behaviors intersect with each other and to understand going forward how the impact of one might influence the other,” she said.
The center also hopes to train youth to identify public health issues around tobacco and marijuana and advocate for policy changes.