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Tomorrow is Today: Azure Thompson

July 06, 2016


More men suffer from addiction than women, but women tend to move more quickly from using substances to becoming addicted. Women more often find it harder to quit using. And they are more likely to relapse after a quit attempt.

Among the first six junior faculty graduates of our Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) Scholar Program funded by the National Institutes of Health, all former Scholars focused their work on addictive behaviors.

And this installment that profiles this impressive class of researchers, we visit with one of three women who have already contributed significant knowledge toward understanding the roots and dynamics of addiction and how we can better help people who struggle to escape its hold.

As a Research Scientist and Associate Director of Policy and Research Analysis for The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) in New York, Dr. Azure Thompson is leveraging her BIRCWH training to help communities and influence public policy.

While a BIRCWH Scholar with a focus on smoking in black women, Thompson demonstrated how young adult black women with children are particularly vulnerable to begin smoking.

“I think the policies that we currently have available to prevent tobacco use have been limited in their impact on black women,” Thompson said about the federal minimum legal age of 18 to purchase cigarettes. “Black women, if they start smoking, usually start smoking at a later age.”

While smoking among adults in the United States has declined by 4 percent over the last decade, nearly 17 percent of adults currently smoke cigarettes. That’s 40 million Americans, of whom 16 million live with a smoking-related disease. Cigarette smoking kills 480,000 Americans each year and remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death. Declines in smoking have been less in women than in men, and women remain more vulnerable to smoking-related diseases than men.

Currently, Thompson is collaborating with the City University of New York (CUNY) and New York University to explore the influence of tobacco-free campus policies on student smoking behaviors. She notes that a number of schools are located in areas with a high concentration of tobacco retailers, particularly schools located in racial/ethnic minority communities. CUNY is also one of the most diverse university systems in the country. And even as rates of tobacco use continue to decline for adolescents and young adults, Thompson’s research shows that the decline is less or nonexistent among some racial/ethnic minorities.

“We need to know what influence this kind of policy can have in a non-residential campus and whether it differs for sub-populations, such as women and ethnic minorities,” Thompson said. “Nearly everyone commutes and can step outside the building or the gate of the campus and smoke.”

Dr. Sherry McKee, one of Thompson’s former mentors, stressed the importance of this work.

“Dr. Thompson engages the fight against addiction on the front lines, among those most vulnerable and disproportionately targeted,” McKee said. “Her ability to join rigorous, innovative research with practical policy recommendations promises a healthier future for these neighborhoods.”

In addition, Thompson hopes to find ways for smoking cessation or avoidance interventions to reach disconnected youth, young adult women and men who are between the ages of 16 and 25 who are not in school and are unemployed.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” she said. “You’re not going to be able to intervene in traditional ways like at colleges or jobs. We are thinking about ways you can target this important population.”

CASA has also included other products, such as e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and hookahs, in its investigations. And last year, the center began a collaboration with Yale School of Medicine and Yale School of Public Health to form a research and policy center in New Haven targeting all addictions.

“I really want to make an impact,” Thompson said. “What I have learned as a BIRCWH Scholar is you have to be committed to whatever it is you are working on. Because the fruits of it may not be immediate. And you have to believe and have faith that you will make a difference.”

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Submitted by Carissa R Violante on July 07, 2016