Rendez-vous with . . . Michael Cummings

Rendez-vous with . . . Michael Cummings

Senior Research Scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute
Buffalo, New York, USA

By Philippe Boucher

Rendez-vous 107
Saturday, August 4 2001

PB : Thank you Michael for accepting our rendez-vous.
May I ask you to introduce yourself ?

Michael Cummings: My name is Michael Cummings. My academic training is in the field of health education and health communications. I attended the University of Michigan School of Public Health where I received both a masters degree and PhD in public health education. I also hold the position of Professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo where I teach graduate courses in cancer epidemiology, health behavior and tobacco control. I currently hold the title of Senior Research Scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute which is oldest free standing comprehensive cancer center in the United States. Roswell Park is located in Buffalo, New York. I've worked at Roswell Park for twenty years.

I also serve as chairperson of Roswell Park's Department of Cancer Prevention, Epidemiology & Biostatistics which is a department of about 40 people. I push a lot of paper around my desk every day! My passion has been tobacco control research which I have focused on for the last 20 years. Working at a cancer hospital makes the reality of the harm caused by tobacco something that cannot be avoided and is thus a major emphasis of research activity at Roswell Park.

I currently have the privilege of serving as the Deputy editor for the journal Tobacco Control and have over the past decade contributed to various Surgeon General's Reports on Smoking and Health, NCI monographs on tobacco, and to an Institute of Medicine report which focused on nicotine addiction in children.

I have authored over 160 scientific papers, most of which relate to the topic of tobacco control.

My recent research work has included studies on tobacco product marketing using tobacco industry documents as a data source, the effectiveness of tobacco control policies on adult and youth smoking behavior, and consumer risk perceptions about tobacco products and nicotine delivery devices. In the past few years I've spent a lot of time testifying as an expert witness in litigation against the tobacco industry. This work has been professionally challenging, exhausting, and rewarding. I testified in two phases of the Engle trial in Florida which resulted in a $145 billion dollar jury verdict against the tobacco industry.

In addition to my administrative and research activities, I also direct our cancer center's tobacco control services which include a statewide helpline for smokers, prevention programs for schoolchildren, public education and advocacy campaigns, and conducting monthly stop smoking clinics.

Q1. When and why did you decide to create an Internet based collection of tobacco ads?

MC: The idea came about 4 years ago when I visited Rick Pollay and was exposed to his incredible collection of tobacco ads. I asked Rick if he would be willing to share his collection of ads with us as part of a research project we were doing on marketing of tobacco products to children based on analysis of tobacco documents. We were interested in comparing examples of advertisement with what we were reading in the industry documents. The technology for getting the images on the Internet came from Michael (Tac) Tacelosky. Without Tac's assistance this project would never have been feasible.

Q2. Can you explain how the collection is organized, how one can search the ads?

MC: The collection is organized by brand name (i.e., Marlboro, Camel, etc.). However, in addition, we created an index which allows the user to search for ads by year, by brand name, by different brand features such as light, smooth, and menthol, by company, and by type of ad (magazine, billboard, etc). Not many of the ads mention cancer, but a lot include terms like smooth, light, and mild.

Q3. In his interview Rick Pollay gave us a few clues about how to look at the ads, how to classify them, how to understand their hidden objectives. Do you intend to provide such comments along with the pictures?

MC: No. The ad collection is there for people to do their own research. The ads speak for themselves. Thanks to the wonders of computer technology and Tac, we've been able to link our collection of tobacco documents organized by brand directly to advertisements included in the collection. It is a great research tool for seasoned experts like Rick Pollay as well as for high school students who want to see first hand how tobacco companies have twisted and manipulated the truth about tobacco products.

Q4. How do you keep up with the flow of new ads? Do you constantly update the database? if there is a permanent or regular update, did you consider offering an alert service that would introduce the new ads to the tobacco control community as they come out? That would be an interesting industry watch service...

MC: Rick continues to send us ads to put into the collection. I've also got my own collection of advertisements that are being added to the collection. We are hoping we can find an organization willing to support continued expansion of the collection. Frankly, even though 8000 images is a lot, it is only the tip of the iceberg. We are just getting started. I would like to eventually include TV ads, radio spots, and advertisements from around the globe in the collection.

Q5. I know of at least another big ad collection (Alan Blum's). Do you have any contact with other collectors, are there collaborative efforts?

MC: We've been in touch with Alan Blum and Eric Solberg about adding material from the National Tobacco Archive which is probably the largest collection of cigarette marketing materials available outside the tobacco companies. We just submitted a grant to help support combing our collections. As it turns out, the National Tobacco Archive is not only much larger than the Pollay collection, it is also better indexed. Unfortunately, having this collection only available in Houston limits access. We hope to change this in the future.

Q6. Is there anything else you would like to add?

MC: We hope that people enjoy the website and will send us examples of advertisements that are not included in our collection. We'd also appreciate hearing what ideas people have for improving the website.

PB: Thank you Michael for taking the time to be with us today.

Nota: here is the url of the site:

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