Tobacco Etiology Research Network (TERN)

Field of Work: Building a transdisciplinary research network focused on the etiology of tobacco use and dependence

Problem Synopsis: In the early 1990s, RWJF identified substance abuse as a priority goal area. Within that goal area, it identified tobacco for special emphasis because of the huge health and health care costs attributable to tobacco use. The likelihood that improving knowledge about the etiology of tobacco use and dependence might significantly improve prevention, treatment and policy interventions to reduce the consequences of tobacco use; and the possibility that a transdisciplinary research network could produce knowledge significantly different than knowledge produced in more traditional approaches to knowledge development, led RWJF to create the Tobacco Etiology Research Network (TERN).

Synopsis of the Work: TERN (January 1996 through July 2008) brought leading researchers from a variety of perspectives and disciplines to work collaboratively on a regular basis. Ten different disciplines (psychopharmacology, behavioral genetics, human development and adolescence, neurobiology, societal influences, proximal influences [those factors that are closest to the individual], epidemiology, clinical interventions, longitudinal methods, and ethnography) formed the network core team.

Key Results

  • According to the chair of the research network, the key results were:

    • New integrative ways of thinking about tobacco etiology, use and dependence, as captured in creative theories, constructs and research designs.
    • New methods for collecting, handling, analyzing and interpreting data resulting from the kind of research pursued by the research network.
    • Changes in how participants in the network think about, approach and conduct research.
    • The recruitment to tobacco research of established investigators from other fields.
    • The training of a cadre of future researchers knowledgeable about the state of the art of tobacco research and committed to the collaborative ethos.
    • Advancement of the field of tobacco research by participants through their publications, presentations, training of students and fellows, service on peer-review panels and journal review boards, and receipt of other funding for their work.