Jiaying Liu Awarded Federal Neuroimaging Grant

Dr. Jiaying Liu, Associate Professor, Communications Studies

OIBR Distinguished Scholar, Dr. Jiaying Liu, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, has been awarded a Federal R21 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to support a neuroimaging project investigating tobacco use among young adults. The project seeks to identify neurobehavioral markers associated with tobacco use among young adult African American vapers, who are frequently targeted by advertisement from vaping companies.

This targeting, as well as unique vaping-related features like adding characterizing flavors, contribute to the disproportionate vaping use among young adults, minority groups, and those with low socioeconomic status, which is then responsible for higher tobacco-related morbidity and mortality rates among these groups. Findings from this project are expected to provide a greater understanding of the mechanisms that make these young adults more susceptible to tobacco use. This research will be used to inform the development of anti-vaping campaign messages and regulations (e.g., the FDA’s recently proposed rules to ban menthol from tobacco products) with the goal to reduce racial disparities in tobacco harm.

Co-PI is OIBR Distinguished Scholar, Dr. Lawrence Sweet, Gary R. Sperduto Professor in Clinical Psychology. Liu and Sweet teamed up in 2019 tackling youth vaping when the Food and Drug Administration declared that youth vaping had reached epidemic status. At the time there was little scientific data to guide restricting or banning vaping products, but UGA’s Liu and Sweet, both in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, are working to change that.

“E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youths and young adults,” said Liu. “In 2011, the use of e-cigarette products was only 1.5% among youths. In 2018, it was more than 20%. This is very alarming. We know tobacco use has been declining for several years because of very effective tobacco-control efforts. Some people think e-cigarettes are a harm-reduction product because they don’t burn the tobacco, so there’s no tar and, in theory, no carcinogen to lead to cancer.”

“Others think e-cigarette use could be a gateway device that will cause nicotine addiction and dependence that ultimately lead to trying cigarettes and, long term, actually re-normalize smoking in our society,” said Sweet.

Liu added, “We found several studies that confirmed that for every one adult smoker who quits smoking with the use of e-cigarettes, there are 81 never smokers—youths or young adults—who actually initiate smoking after e-cigarette use.”

“When people start with cigarettes, they often stop at the experimentation stage because the nicotine tastes bitter. With e-cigarettes, the flavors can mask the unpleasant nicotine flavor. Until they’re hooked, and they feel like they need more nicotine and can handle the harsher experience of smoking cigarettes.”

“It’s like training wheels for cigarettes,” said Sweet.

This grant includes a budget to support two dedicated Graduate Research Assistants who will work directly with Dr. Liu and Dr. Sweet. The research assistants will be trained in fMRI neuroimaging practices, and will work throughout the project, assisting with participant recruitment and screening, experiment and message design, data collection and analysis and manuscript writing.

Read more about Dr. Liu and Dr. Sweet’s research here.

Interested potential GRA applicants should contact Dr. Liu to learn more about this opportunity.