UTHealth researchers receive $3.1 million NIH grant to address youth vaping epidemic

As e-cigarette use by young people reaches epidemic proportions, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have received a $3.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct the first-ever assessment on the long-term results of a nationwide nicotine vaping prevention program for youth called CATCH My Breath.

According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 27.5% of high school students and 10.5% of middle school students have reported vaping in the last 30 days as e-cigarettes have become the most commonly used tobacco product by U.S. adolescents. The number of youth using e-cigarettes rose from 3.6 million in 2018 to more than 5 million in 2019.

Few vaping prevention programs exist to address this epidemic and no long-term effectiveness studies have been conducted before.

Parents across the country are demanding solutions to the youth e-cigarette epidemic. Schools and youth organizations are scrambling for resources to reverse the troubling trends, and this program offers a solution to the problem."

Steven H. Kelder, PhD, MPH, Beth Toby Grossman Distinguished Professor in Spirituality and Healing at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin

As part of a five-year study, researchers will assess the effects of the vaping prevention program, CATCH My Breath, on delaying the onset of e-cigarette use in sixth to eighth grade students. The randomized controlled trial will include 20 schools with a combined total of 1,400 students.

Experts at UTHealth School of Public Health, with input from school administrators, health education coordinators, and tobacco prevention educators, as well as teachers, students, and parents, developed CATCH My Breath. The curriculum model emphasizes active, student-centered learning led by fellow classmates and includes group discussions, goal setting, interviews, skills development, and analyzing mass media coverage of the epidemic of vaping. The program, which is disseminated by the nonprofit CATCH Global Foundation, has been implemented in over 1,500 schools across all 50 states with a targeted reach of 1,000,000 students by the end of the 2019-20 year.

CATCH My Breath was tested in a pilot study in 59 middle schools across seven states and garnered positive feedback from more than 100 teachers and 9,500 students in sixth through eighth grade. According to data presented at the 2018 American Public Health Association Conference, students in the CATCH My Breath pilot test schools were significantly less likely to experiment with e-cigarettes compared with those in the control schools.

"The pilot test revealed significant positive results and the NIH grant will allow for a conclusive evaluation of the program," said Kelder, who developed CATCH My Breath as part of his ongoing research at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at UTHealth School of Public Health.

The researchers warn that while the long-term health hazards of vaping are not completely understood, most teens who smoke e-cigarettes are using aerosol pods that contain very high levels of nicotine – an addictive substance that, according to the CDC, is harmful to developing brains. This aerosol, incorrectly called vapor, may contain high concentrations of irritants, toxins, and carcinogens, such as nickel, tin, and lead, and have been linked to markers of cardiovascular disease and brain seizures. In addition, 48 deaths linked to e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury have been confirmed in the United States.

This week CVS Health Foundation, CATCH Global Foundation, and Discovery Education launched Be Vape Free, a nationwide initiative to provide standards-aligned, no-cost, e-cigarette prevention resources for educators teaching grades 5-12. Be Vape Free will serve to expand the use of CATCH My Breath to combat the growing vaping epidemic by arming educators, parents, and communities with easy-to-use tools that will help students make smart, informed, and healthy choices for life.

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