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UH researcher awarded new grant to study Latinx smokers and impact of microaggressions

Houston, TX

Discrimination can be enacted in overt and intended ways, but it can also occur in many subtle forms.

Leading questions such as, “where are you from?” and “do you speak English?” are examples of microaggressions experienced by Latinx or Hispanic individuals.

Spearheading a NOSI study which explores Latinx smokers and the impact of microaggressions, University of Houston RESTORE Laboratory Researcher Brooke Kauffman, Ph.D. delves further into smoking behavior and relapse.

“Microaggressions are more understudied than overt acts of discrimination,” Kauffman said. “Sometimes they are diminished to some extent, because they are not seen as aggressive or overt as other types of discrimination. However, if someone is experiencing these constant microaggressions throughout their day, how does that impact their smoking? That’s something we don’t know a lot about—but if we did, then we could tailor our smoking cessation interventions to better serve the Latinx community.”

The NOSI study entitled, ““Latinx Smokers: Evaluating Ethnic Microaggressions on Smoking Behavior and Relapse” was funded $152,842 through an award from NIDA and HEALTH Center for Addictions Research and Cancer Prevention (HEALTH-RCMI; PI: Dr. Ezemenari M. Obasi). Kauffman is currently recruiting 90 Latinx smokers who smoke at least five cigarettes a day and have experienced at least one microaggression in the last six months.

“Overall, our study is looking at the impact of microaggressions on smoking behavior,” Kauffman said. “Our hope is that we can use this information from a harm reduction perspective to tailor this for future intervention research and raise public awareness of the impact of microaggressions on health behaviors, particularly smoking.”

Kauffman hopes that the NOSI research initiative will ultimately shed more light on services and interventions that are critically needed in the Latinx community.

“One thing that we’re trying to do a lot of is just to try to connect with the community,” Kauffman said. “And bring awareness to the services that can be available to the Latinx community. We’re here to serve the community. I also hope that data from this study will be used again for public health awareness for individuals to realize the impact these experiences have on the Latinx community.”

Kauffman underscored that the approach with this NOSI grant stemmed from a stress-based model which shows that when people are perpetually exposed to stressors or microaggressions, they may experience allostatic overload.

“We tailored a lot of our work, approach with this grant based on this stress-based model of allostatic overload,” Kauffman said. “An analogy would be—each experience is like pouring more water into your cup, and there’s only so much water that your cup can handle.

Eventually your cup will overfill—and what kind of health outcomes will that lead to?”

One of the primary research interests for Kauffman has been understanding health disparities in marginalized communities and helping bridge the gap for better health outcomes.

“I’m interested in the underserved aspects of communities,” Kauffman said. “Whether it’s working with people with obesity who experience weight stigma or bringing awareness to other forms of stigma and discrimination that Latinx and African American populations experience.”

The key insight for Kauffman is that some of the standard smoking interventions have not necessarily been effective for the Latinx community.

“With the Latinx community, they don’t tend to smoke as often as Non-Latinx white individuals--but they’re less likely to receive care,” Kauffman said. “Those who do smoke are less likely to quit smoking by standard interventions that we do have. Something is not working well for this particular population—and we need to do a better job of determining what that might be.”

As an early-stage investigator, Kauffman hopes that this NOSI training grant will be a springboard for her to serve the Latinx community through the role of research.

“I really hope that this is an opportunity to connect and learn from the Latinx community,” Kauffman said. “That’s what I’m most excited about--taking advantage of the opportunities through the Health Research Institute and RCMI. It’s important to grow as investigators in terms of our approach to doing research and getting feedback from the community as to what their real needs are.”

By Alison Medley

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