Roberto Cancio

Cancio aims to study how and why youth use vaping products, as well as inform policy makers in geographically specific areas in order to best address the issue. 

Assistant Professor of Sociology Roberto Cancio, Ph.D, C.P.E, has received a New Investigator Award through the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP) to fund his upcoming study: “Vaping in Los Angeles: Youths’ Perceptions, Behaviors, and Outlet Density.” With a grant of $853,800, the University of California’s Research Grants Program Office will back Dr. Cancio’s three-year study on youths’ relationships and access to vaping and other tobacco products.

“At LMU we have this idea that we do research that helps society. We have a social justice perspective on it ... A lot of researchers do research for the sake of research. But what I’ve learned and what’s very receptive here at LMU is that, through research, for the sake of answering questions that sometimes are a little bit hard to answer, we promote social justice," said Cancio.

Cancio's project is applying a methodology known as a convergent mixed-methods study. The 50 adolescent subjects, aged 14-19, will provide data on every aspect of their experience with tobacco products, yielding a comprehensive image for Cancio and his team to analyze.

As of 2019, an ongoing outbreak of vaping-associated illnesses has been identified and investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While hospitalizations peaked in September of 2019, the CDC continues to recommend the public not use products containing THC, such as e-cigarettes or vapes, particularly those received from informal sources. The CDC advises such products never be used by youths.

“The scare is how do we get adolescents from stopping to use these types of products because they are related to smoking … It’s [the same] product in a different package. The smoking pandemic, in some studies it’s taken away ten years of people’s lives. It’s also a gateway drug for other types of substance uses,” said Cancio.

Unlike previous studies that have focussed on the appeal of vaping to youths or the adverse health effects associated with vaping, Cancio is interested in the precursors to use. “We know it’s bad for you … we know that flavors are attractive and marketing is attractive, but what do we do today to fix these problems so we don’t have them tomorrow,” he said. 

With a better understanding of youth vapor’s environmental implications, his study aims to provide preventative insight for the public. “No one really knows where they get [tobacco products] or how they get them. As we know, vaping products are very expensive. We’re talking about communities of color where socioeconomic status is a little lower than other neighborhoods. We probably know why kids in those neighborhoods get it, but what about these neighborhoods? What are their sources?” said Cancio. 

Cancio's mixed-method approach will help answer these questions. “What that means is we’re using multiple forms of data … that we’re not putting together until the end. It’s quantitative spatial data and qualitative interviews from adolescents. We’re doing this in order to create something called a geo-narrative. That’s what hasn’t been done before in this type of research,” said Cancio.

The study will collect spatial data, taking into account crime and health data provided by the city and the LAPD, along with individual reports from and interviews with the adolescent subjects. These reports will contextualize geographic areas they frequent, including their school, parks and locations where the products in question are supplied.

Mapping tobacco product users, according to Cancio, limits a researcher's observation and consideration to only what is externally visible. Given the large area of Los Angeles and the diversity within the city’s regions, Cancio will endeavor to measure interpretations of each neighborhood along with their geographic location.

“I was at a project where we would go to this park and, in the intervention, we helped clean up the park. But the park wasn’t really being used. We started asking people, ‘Well, how come no one’s using the park?’ They’d say, ‘Well, that’s not a park, that’s where everyone drinks and smokes.’ We may see it as a park … but in the 3D, when we actually talk to people, it’s not a park. What this is going to do is going to help us compare and contrast different neighborhoods in Los Angeles,” said Cancio.

The goal of such in-depth analysis is to provide policymakers with “interventions that are neighborhood specific, that focus on the neighborhood characteristics,” he said.

“We want to find these nuances, but we want to do this in a way that also preserves the community; that we don’t make them feel used. This is a project where we’re working together to try to figure out how we address these issues," said Cancio.

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