WHO collaborating centers are designated by Margaret Chan, M.D., director-general of the WHO, to carry out activities in support of the WHO’s mission to provide leadership on global health matters, shape the health research agenda, set norms and standards, articulate evidence-based policy options, provide technical support to countries and monitor and assess health trends.
“Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Tobacco Products is the latest addition to WHO’s global network of collaborating centers,” said Carissa Etienne, M.B.B.S., regional director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization. “The network brings together more than 700 highly regarded academic and scientific institutions in over 80 countries, supporting WHO programs and priorities with time, expertise and funding.”
There are 84 collaborating centers in the United States and VCU’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products is the only collaborating center on tobacco product testing and research in the Americas, Etienne said.
“With this designation, we become a resource that the WHO can reach out to when they have issues related to tobacco product testing and research,” said Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., co-director of VCU’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products, a professor in theDepartment of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “It’s an honor.”
As a WHO collaborating center, the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products will disseminate novel methods to evaluate tobacco products, provide research results and support evaluation of e-cigarettes, train scientists in methods to evaluate non-cigarette tobacco products, and prepare briefing and education materials related to the evaluation of non-cigarette tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes.
By earning the designation as a WHO collaborating center, VCU’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products could play an important role in the WHO’s work under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a legally binding treaty that aims to reduce death and disease associated with tobacco use.
“I’ve been working for so long in understanding the health and other effects of tobacco products — especially non-cigarette products, like water pipes, e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco — that [this designation] was something that I was, of course, very much interested in,” Eissenberg said. “It’s about how to make people not die from diseases associated from these various products.”
Douglas Bettcher, Ph.D., M.D., director of WHO’s Department for Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases, called the designation a “win-win relationship for WHO, the collaborating centers and for public health.”
“The partnership gives WHO access to top research centers,” he said. “The collaborating center gains enhanced recognition by national authorities and new opportunities to exchange information and develop technical cooperation with other institutions.”
The Virginia center is WHO’s fifth Collaborating Center on Tobacco Product Testing and Research and the first in the Americas. The other four are located in Burkina Faso, Japan, the Netherlands and Singapore.
“We believe that the collaboration of these tobacco testing and research centers will strengthen implementation of the product regulation provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” Bettcher said.
The Center for the Study of Tobacco Products launched in September 2013 under an $18.1 million grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health to study modified-risk tobacco products and other novel tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, and to demonstrate methods that can be used to help inform national tobacco regulatory policies.
The center will not use any of its federal grant funding for its work for the WHO. Instead, VCU Massey Cancer Center has put forward funds to be used should the WHO call on the center for assistance, Eissenberg said.