Sabrina Smiley, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor with the Keck School of Medicine of USC and member of the Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research (IPR) , has earned a Diversity Supplement grant from the National Cancer Institute to continue her research on the marketing of tobacco products.

Sabrina Smiley (Photo/Courtesy of the Keck School of Medicine of USC)

At the Keck School’s Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS), she not only investigates neighborhood racial and ethnic disparities in tobacco marketing, she’s examining the interplay between federal tobacco regulation, retailer compliance and consumer behavior. The grant will provide Smiley research funding support to:

  • Describe marketing practices of local vape shops in multiple racial/ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles and to examine parallels with online marketing practices.
  • Examine vape shop employees’ perceptions of their customers’ preferences pertaining to how possible federal regulations in product and marketing characteristics impact product appeal, anticipated future purchases, and use of vaping devices and combustible tobacco products.

“Being awarded this Diversity Supplement means that I will also be able to gain additional training in tobacco regulatory science and successfully compete for an NCI K22 grant that will further launch me into an independent research career,” Smiley stated.

Shortly after earning the NCI grant, she also received a Rapid Response Research Award to Accelerate Policy from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program for $550,000 over two years. With this funding, she’ll examine the impact of menthol cigarette sales restrictions in Black neighborhoods in Los Angeles and among Black smokers residing in those neighborhoods. 

“While more Black smokers want to quit and make more quit attempts than white smokers, they successfully quit at a lower rate,” Smiley explained. “These disparities may be influenced by various factors, including the use of menthol cigarettes, which are disproportionately marketed in Black neighborhoods compared to noncombustible tobacco products, and which approximately 80% of Black smokers prefer. So we need policy interventions that restrict the sale of these products, but we also need behavioral interventions that are culturally specific in order to reduce disparities and health outcomes around tobacco use. That is the overarching goal of my research program.”  

Sabrina Smiley grew up in Selma, AL, which instilled in her a drive to promote social justice through her work in public health.

Smiley’s parents were both longtime educators, and “together they instilled in me the value of education, a strong work ethic and a sense of community responsibility,” Smiley said. But as she grew up and kept advancing in her education, she realized how many built-in obstacles were in her way.

“Diversity supplements are important for underrepresented early-career investigators, because they break down the institutional and economic barriers that prevent us from competing for NIH funding,” Smiley said, “so it’s also important to have a good mentoring team and a good university to invest in you.”

“Dr. Smiley has been exceptionally productive since she joined the scientific team in the Tobacco Center for Regulatory Sciences,” said Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, PhD, MPH, a professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School. “She has written numerous papers providing insights into the tobacco retail environment in African American, American Indian and other vulnerable communities. One of her papers examining the specific targeting of women and girls by the tobacco industry is likely to be quoted for years to come.”

— Landon Hall