Faculty Profile: Daniel Giovenco

Image of Danny GiovencoWhat are some of your major projects that you're currently working on or ideas you have for future research?

Broadly, my research examines the relationship between tobacco use and neighborhood characteristics, such as tobacco retailer density, local tobacco control policies, and exposure to product advertising. What sets my work apart is my focus on alternative tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes, cigarillos, blunt wraps, smokeless tobacco, and hookah. While rates of cigarette smoking continue to decline, use of these other products has increased over the past few years and enormous disparities exist in patterns of use across social groups. I am currently working on a project that will use innovative mobile data collection tools to document how tobacco marketing varies across New York City neighborhoods. Our research team, which includes Mailman students and alumni, will develop an app that allows us to document tobacco industry promotional activities at the point-of-sale using store audit surveys, field notes, and photos. We will spend the next few months canvassing diverse neighborhoods to launch what will become a long-term surveillance project on tobacco marketing.

Another one of my research interest areas is the co-use of marijuana and tobacco. Specifically, I am interested in understanding how marijuana legalization impacts tobacco product use at the population level. I am leading a collaborative study with Dr. Silvia Martins from the Department of Epidemiology and Dr. Christine Mauro from the Department of Biostatistics to explore how the cigar marketplace differs in states where marijuana is recreationally legal compared to the national market. Mid-size cigars, known as cigarillos, are commonly used as blunts to smoke marijuana and are weakly regulated by the FDA. Preliminary analyses suggest that in places like Denver, Seattle, and Portland, fruit-flavored and low-cost (99 cents) packs of cigarillos and blunt wraps are driving tobacco sales. Given the health risks associated with cigar use, heightened sales of cigarillos in regions where marijuana is legal may have serious public health consequences.

How does your research fit within public health's broader mission to address social injustice and health disparities?

Big Tobacco has historically targeted marginalized and vulnerable populations, such as African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority groups, the LGBT community, and those with mental illness. It is less clear whether these trends persist in the context of today’s diverse tobacco marketplace. Importantly, not all tobacco products carry the same level of risk, and tobacco harm reduction is gaining traction as a strategy to eliminate cigarette use. Recent research, however, indicates that African American smokers are significantly less likely to switch to reduced-risk products such as e-cigarettes compared to their white counterparts. Moreover, African Americans are more likely to use the deadliest combustible products such as cigarettes, cigars, and cigarillos. These disparities are likely perpetuated by modifiable policy and environmental factors, such as tax structures, product accessibility, and industry marketing. Untangling the specific factors that contribute to use of the most risky tobacco products is essential to developing public health strategies that promote equity. The ultimate goal of my research is to inform federal, state, and local policy-making in a way that minimizes tobacco-related health disparities.

How do you use geographical information systems to identity social and environmental health determinants? Why is this approach important to use for your research?

Place matters! Where we live strongly influences our health behaviors and health outcomes. This ideology is central to my research on disparities in substance use and I incorporate geographical elements into all of my methodologies. The mobile data collection app that I described earlier will capture the precise geographic coordinates of field staff as they upload new data points. This will enable us to import the data into software programs like ArcGIS to uncover spatial patterns in tobacco promotion and pinpoint neighborhoods that may be disproportionally targeted. I also have access to detailed tobacco sales data for the largest market regions in the United States, so I can track which specific product features are driving consumption in major cities across the country. Moreover, I am able to link these longitudinal sales data with legislative events to evaluate the impact of state and federal policies on tobacco purchasing behaviors. In public health, major change often starts at the local level. States, counties, and even municipalities have the authority to develop strong tobacco control policies. As such, I believe it is essential to collect place-based data in order to inform community prevention efforts.

Do you have any hobbies? What might your students and colleagues not know about you?

I am the lead singer in a cover band that performs in the New York-New Jersey area. We primarily play Top 40 pop and dance hits, but we cover some 80s and 90s classics, too. We mostly perform at live music venues and bars, but we’ve done weddings, graduation parties, and other private events. It’s refreshing to take off my “professor hat” on the weekends! I also enjoy long-distance running. I’ve completed the New York City, Chicago, and Walt Disney World marathons and hope to run another this year. There is something meditative and therapeutic about going out on long runs. My greatest passion is world traveling. Last year, I climbed Machu Picchu in Perú and it was a transformative experience! At the end of this year, I am going to New Zealand to officiate my best friend’s wedding.

What do you hope to accomplish this next school year?

I am the newest faculty member in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences, and I have not had a lot of opportunities to get to know the amazing students in SMS. I look forward to teaching, advising, mentoring, and collaborating with students during the next academic year. I am also eager to collaborate with faculty members in SMS and other departments who are doing work related to substance use disparities.