Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco
2424 American Lane
Madison, WI 53704
With a little help from its friends: A brief history of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco
Ovide F. Pomerleau, John R. Hughes
The Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco is now 10 years old. This report attempts to convey some of the events that have made the Society what it is and also to explain its purpose. Additional objectives were to provide a historical context for members as well as to give an accessible introduction to the Society for non-members. As we began this task, we were truly impressed by the hard work of the many volunteers whose donated time and creativity made the Society possible; unfortunately, it also quickly became apparent that we would not be able to identify each individual by name. To broaden our purview, we asked each President to provide information about his or her time in office; we then listed major events by epoch, delimited by each President’s term. We also reviewed minutes of the Board of Trustees, various committee reports, and all of the Newsletters. The errors that remain are our own and, for this, we ask the reader’s indulgence.
The report has two parts—a statistical overview and a description of major events.
SRNT: The numbers
SRNT started with approximately one hundred members in 1994. It has grown at a steady rate ever since—all without formal membership campaigns. The Society has also broadened in scope over time, as new members interested in neuroscience, the treatment of non-tobacco-related disorders, epidemiology, and public policy joined the original core of mostly biobehavioral and clinical researchers.
Annual meetings have increased dramatically both in attendance and in number of presentations.
Number of SRNT Members (open diamonds), number of SRNT annual meeting attendees (open triangles) and number of meeting presentations (open squares).Note: Missing data points indicate lack of information.
Initially, the intent was to keep meetings on a single track so that members could sample all the new developments in plenary sessions, but, as SRNT evolved into a major venue for presenting research on nicotine and tobacco, multi-track presentations became necessary to accommodate the different specialties and interests. Over the years, the quality of presentations increased substantially; moreover, new formats such as Rapid Communications, Theme and Award Lectures, New Investigator Papers, Current Issue Debates, and Workshops for Young Investigators were added to the mix. The annual meetings also provided a context for the Society to recognize and honor scientists in the field for their contributions to the understanding of nicotine’s effects and to tobacco control.
An important milestone for the Society was the publication of the first volume of the scientific journal, Nicotine and Tobacco Research, in 1999. Within three years, submissions to the journal increased to such an extent that a shift in format from quarterly to bimonthly was necessary. Another indicator of the journal’s rapid rise to pre-eminence is that it achieved listing in Index Medicus in just two years.
Number of articles published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
SRNT: The narrative
Inception. Enthusiastic participation by 50 scientists at the Third Nicotine Roundtable of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) in November, 1993, provided the impetus for starting a scientific society that would focus exclusively on the study of nicotine and tobacco use. The instigators, Ovide Pomerleau, John Hughes, and John Rosecrans, were frustrated by general scientific meetings in which nicotine and tobacco research was a bit player as well as by meetings focusing on nicotine and tobacco in which the scientific method was a negligible concern. The solution that emerged was to start a new, multidisciplinary society to sponsor scientific meetings and publications and foster the exchange of information on the biological, behavioral, social, and economic effects of nicotine and tobacco.
Twenty colleagues were asked to serve as an invitation committee in December, 1993. This committee convened researchers at the meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in April, 1994, for a discussion of the pro’s and con’s of forming a new society. An overwhelming number of invitees indicated that they would join a new organization. Subsequently, 104 Charter Members banded together to approve an organizational structure and to appoint the first officers.
Historical Aside: The name, Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, came about as an attempt to reconcile the views of some researchers who wanted only nicotine in the name with that of others who wanted just to mention tobacco. The compromise was to list both terms in alphabetical order.
Ovide Pomerleau, 1994-1995. The first president and officers drafted Bylaws for the Society and set up a formal committee structure to carry out Society business. In September, Phoenix Professional Partnerships was hired to provide management services. In October, 1994, the Society was officially incorporated. The first SRNT Newsletter was issued around this time and quickly became a vital resource. The first annual meeting of SRNT was convened in March, 1995, in conjunction with the Society of Behavioral Medicine in San Diego; an unexpectedly large number of researchers—222—filled the available space. Former U.S. Surgeon General, Jesse Steinfeld, was the keynote speaker.
Historical Aside: SRNT came into being just after the era during which former U.S. Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, emphasized the importance of smoking as a public health problem and promoted science-based theory, prevention, treatment, and policy for tobacco control; as Surgeon General, he also made compelling arguments for increasing funding for basic and applied research.
John Hughes, 1995-1996. The SRNT webpage and ListServ became operational in this year, providing critical sources of scientific information and opinion. SRNT officers met with Alan Leshner, who was starting his term as Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and persuaded him to state explicitly that NIDA would support research on all drugs of abuse, legal and illegal. These efforts came to fruition in March, 1995, when NIDA announced the first Request-For-Applications (RFA) for nicotine research in ten years. In April, 1995, SRNT was a co-sponsor of the conference, Smoking Cessation: Alternative Strategies, with Johns Hopkins University; the conference signaled the start of harm reduction studies for tobacco control. In December, 1995 SRNT convened a conference to review the safety of nicotine as medication for smoking cessation and other disorders; the proceedings were subsequently published in the book, Nicotine Safety and Toxicity (Oxford University Press, 1998).
Historical Aside: John Pinney, former Director of the US Office on Smoking and Health, and Ted Klein, a prominent advertising executive specializing in pharmaceutical products for smoking cessation, provided valuable counsel and support at the inception of the Society as well as at various times of need later on.
Neal Benowitz, 1996-1997. The issue of whether applicants for membership could be turned down if their employer did not meet prevailing academic standards of openness and disclosure stimulated numerous Listserv exchanges during the year. After considerable deliberation, the SRNT Board concluded that membership must be open to all who met the stated requirements but that, in addition, members must endorse and adhere to the following statement in the application brochure: I affirm that I will support the goals of the Society to stimulate new knowledge concerning nicotine, to foster the exchange of scientific information on nicotine and tobacco dependence, and to encourage research on public health efforts for the prevention and treatment of cigarette smoking and tobacco use. In September, 1996, SRNT sponsored a systematic review of the Agency for Health Care and Policy Research (AHCPR) guidelines for smoking cessation therapy on behalf of the issuing panel. Early in 1997, the Board began exploring the possibility of publishing a scientific journal, and Nicotine & Tobacco Research became a reality a year later with the designation of Carfax Publishing Ltd. (now Taylor & Francis Group, Abingdon, United Kingdom) as publisher.
Maxine Stitzer, 1997-1998. This year was characterized as a “tumultuous time” for the Society, mainly due to a deterioration of management services from Phoenix Professional Partnerships. The SRNT Website was transferred to Brown University during this time and new features were added. The first SRNT international meeting was held in Copenhagen, Denmark in August, 1997, with a remarkable turnout of over 500 attendees. SRNT also became more active in advocating the use of tobacco settlement monies to support research on nicotine addiction, tobacco control, and the health consequences of smoking in the context of the McCain Tobacco Settlement Bill then under consideration in the US Congress. The Society also had input in the Clinton Administration’s plans for legislation concerning the tobacco industry settlement and FDA regulation of tobacco products. Although neither of these initiatives came to fruition, SRNT established its usefulness as a resource for scientific information to guide policy.
Jack Henningfield, 1998-1999. The effort to resolve on-going administrative crises continued. Considerable progress was made in this year, in large part due to the assistance of pro bono accountants and lawyers at Pinney Associates who assessed and helped resolve accounting irregularities. Following completion of these tasks, the Board selected a new management company, Thomas Miller Associates (now The Rees Group), to replace Phoenix Professional Partnerships. Despite the challenges, the Society sponsored a highly successful conference, “Addicted to Nicotine,” in conjunction with the National Institute on Drug Abuse; the keynote address was delivered by U.S. Vice President Al Gore. SRNT also provided assistance to the National Cancer Institute on their Tobacco Research Implementation Plan, helping define the rationale for the forthcoming Transdisciplinary Tobacco Research Centers Program
Dorothy Hatsukami, 1999-2000. In this year, SRNT was fortunate in being able to secure a recurring grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to defray some of the costs for annual meetings. This grant signaled the Society’s shift from pharmaceutical industry support to greater reliance on funding from government and voluntary agencies. SRNT also sponsored a Treatment Outcome Methodology report, an effort that eventuated in a compendium of articles on recommended methods. In June, 1999, the first issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research was distributed to the membership and to libraries around the world. Also during this time, SRNT collaborated with the World Health Organization, the World Bank Organization, the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group, and the Centers for Disease Control to develop a new resource for the treatment of tobacco dependence using the internet, www.treattobacco.net. This new portal provides access to a comprehensive database that focuses on five critical aspects of tobacco dependence: efficacy, safety, economics, policy, and demographics/health effects. The international expansion of the Society was formalized with the creation of a Global Network Committee. Finally, a special contest to design a new logo for SRNT was held; the winning submission was a multicolored acronym based on the letters SRNT.
William Corrigall, 2000-2001. The goal of his administration was to enhance the role and to increase participation of basic science researchers in the Society. A by-product of this effort was the development of pre-conference sessions at the annual meeting and the deployment of additional tracks to meet increased demand for specialized scientific presentations. In July, the Society’s Bylaws were modified extensively to accommodate the inclusion of international affiliates; changes also included provisions for adding more Board members outside of North America and procedures for organizing regional affiliates. The first affiliate, SRNT-Europe, was admitted later in the year.
Kenneth Perkins, 2001-2002. A major objective was to have SRNT serve as the meeting place of choice and the principal center of communication for nicotine/tobacco scientists around the world. Electronic distribution of the Newsletter began during the year and the SRNT Website was further improved. Later during the year, controversy over the issue of tobacco industry funding for research and sponsorship of scientific meetings erupted, prompting a review of policy and a formal statement by the Executive Committee (see Newsletter, Vol. 8, #1) discouraging the acceptance of tobacco company funding. Those who chose to accept such support were strongly advised to insist on scientific independence in the conduct of sponsored research and to obtain the right to reveal all sources of support. In a related development, the journal released an official position statement (Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2002; 4, 1-2) requiring full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. At the semi-annual meeting of the Board of Directors in the fall, the decision was also made to plan an annual meeting outside of the US. As a consequence, Prague in the Czech Republic was chosen as the venue for the 2005 meeting.
Historical Aside: In recognition of his strong support and commitment to nicotine and tobacco research during his tenure, Alan Leshner, former Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, received a Special Award for Outstanding Contributions from the Society in 2002.
Harry Lando, 2002-2003. During this year, the Society’s visibility increased markedly among regulatory agencies and policy makers, and new constituencies were reached. In related developments, concerns were expressed over how best to issue policy statements in the name of the Society; an ad hoc committee studied the issue over much of the year and, in April, 2003, new procedures were promulgated by which policy and consensus statements could be issued, along with rules for disclosure of competing interests by SRNT officers, and this information is now available on the SRNT Website. Burgeoning interest in global research by the membership resulted in a well-attended pre-conference meeting on this topic.
Historical Aside: A new prize was awarded in 2003 to honor the late John Slade, who had been Professor of Medicine at The Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a distinguished public policy advocate and author of the book, The Cigarette Papers. The John Slade Prize recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to public health and tobacco control, commemorating his vision that science can make a difference in public policy.
The Society’s first decade has demonstrated considerable progress toward fulfilling its stated purpose: to stimulate the generation of new knowledge concerning nicotine in all its mani-festations--from molecular to societal. The annual SRNT meeting has become THE place to present quality research; Nicotine & Tobacco Research has become a leading journal in the field; the Listserv answers scientific questions and provides an effective forum for discussing critical issues in a timely manner; and scientific findings are now being utilized to further tobacco control and formulate tobacco policy. In addition to its superb volunteer base, SRNT owes a major debt of gratitude to the American Legacy Foundation and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Cancer Institute for grant support, and to various pharmaceutical corporations for unrestricted donations. Of paramount importance, the first ten years have provided a tradition by which respect for the scientific method has been fostered and procedures by which threats to the integrity of the organization are addressed and resolved in a regular and open manner.
Acknowledgments: We thank Beth Klipping, Executive Director of SRNT at The Rees Group, for her help in providing information for the Table and Figures.