Now that her team has made an important contribution to tobacco control policy in Hungary, Kristie Foley is taking on Romania. This associate professor of medical humanities at Davidson is the principle investigator for a new $1.3 million-five-year grant aimed at reducing tobacco mortality and morbidity in Romania, where 37 percent of the population smokes.
Foley’s team is launching the effort as it concludes a similar effort in Hungary. that five-year initiative led to substantial increases in tobacco taxes, and national laws prohibiting smoking in public spaces such as workplaces and restaurants. Another law significantly affected smoking at outdoor cafés by prohibiting smoking within five meters outside of bars.
Foley’s work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fogarty International Center, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
As with Hungary, the primary aim of the new Romanian grant is “capacity building”—recruiting and working with Romanian scientists, public health officials, and representatives of non-profit organizations so they can take the lead in lowering tobacco use in their own country.
Foley said, “Our goal is to be mentors. Only local participants can provide public credibility for the efforts. They’re ultimately responsible for the end product, so we have to give them the autonomy to succeed or fail.”
The Romania grant will support seven projects with five emphases: (1) tobacco prevention and cessation, (2) reduction of secondhand smoke exposure, (3) inclusion of vulnerable populations, such as people of Roma ethnicity and institutionalized populations, (4) intervention-oriented research, and (5) using research results to institute policy change.
Associate professor of chemistry Cindy Hauser, a Davidson faculty member specializing in air quality monitoring, will train Romanians to assess that in places where smoking is still allowed.
A native of North Carolina, which ranks first in the country in tobacco production, Foley spent some time as a youngster helping family members with the hot, sticky job of harvesting the crop. In addition, one of her grandfathers smoked regularly and died of lung cancer.
But she wants people to understand that her campaign is not aimed at punishing smokers. “There are a lot of external factors that lead young people to smoke, and nicotine is a highly addictive substance,” she said. “What we want to do is ‘de-normalize’ it, so that people will not start using tobacco.”
— BILL GIDUZ