Delving into tobacco cessation: Insights from Dr. Catherine Nawaga’s seminar

tobacco addictionDr. Catherine Nagawa presenting her research at FIU | Carla Mendez, PantherNOW

Carla Mendez | Staff Writer

Dr. Catherine Nagawa is paving the way to provide treatment to individuals who suffer from tobacco use, specifically among those with mental health disorders. 

Nagawa held a conference to present her research to students on April 1 at 10:30 a.m. 

She is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Social and Behavioral Science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School and Public Health, specializing in behavioral health research, particularly epidemiology and mixed-methods techniques. 

Her mission is to uncover the complex web of elements that contribute to tobacco addiction and design specific solutions designed to help people break free from its grasp.

She aims to promote smoking cessation at both the individual and structural levels. 

“We know that social influences and social constructs most embedded in behavioral theories do suggest family members affect our decisions,” Nagawa said when explaining how her research pertains to how people can be influenced socially for their tobacco use cessation.

With this, Dr. Nawaga wanted to address the question relating to creating environments that increase the chances of quitting success and the ways to provide support effectively.

Her research program goals included developing novel approaches tailored to vulnerable groups and increasing access to evidence-based approaches. 

In a study sample she conducted with another one of her peers, the study consisted of individuals in Massachusetts, Washington, and Chicago who were 18 years or older and currently smoke or recently quit. This qualitative study occurred between November 2020 and August 2021, with all the participants receiving mental health services from publically funded programs.

“What I found was that individuals who involve their family and peers to implement home smoking rules and communal quitting had increasing intentions to quit and resulted in positive changes in the smoking behavior,” Nawaga said. 

Through her work, we further understand the social factors that can aid certain people with smoking cessation.  

Basing her research on the social and environmental triggers, Dr. Nawaga introduces how individuals in her studies who suffer from mental health disorders often sought a community within tobacco usage. 

“The way you pick up Instagram to stay connected,” she said, “they picked up a cigarette to stay connected within their community.” 

There are four elements to consider when tailoring cessation programs for people with mental health conditions. According to her presentation, the elements are high nicotine dependence, intense withdrawal symptoms, social and environmental triggers, and limited access to cessation resources. 

Through her research, Nawaga set out to break down these obstacles and pave the way for accessible, successful cessation programs targeted to the specific requirements of people with mental health disorders.

Nagawa is committed in her dedication to furthering tobacco cessation initiatives. She will be working with research initiatives at FIU and expressed excitement about getting involved in teaching opportunities.

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