About the Center

About the Center

Our Center goal is to build a strong scientific evidence base for effective policies in the retail environment to help reduce tobacco use, tobacco-related disparities, and the public health burden of tobacco, including cancer.

Reduce Tobacco Use
Address Tobacco Related Disparities
Reduce Public Health Burden

History & overview

The Advancing Science & Practice in the Retail Environment (ASPiRE) Center launched in 2018 with a five-year, $11.6 million grant from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health to a partnership made up of Washington University in St. Louis, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Stanford University.

The ASPiRE Center’s team-science approach builds on a strong, multidisciplinary collaboration that began in 2012 with funding from the National Cancer institute’s State & Community Tobacco Control (SCTC) Research Initiative to address important, under-studied aspects of state and community tobacco control policy and media interventions.

Slow-moving federal regulation and stalled statewide efforts to pass smoke-free and tax policies have led more states and communities to focus how and where tobacco products are sold to consumers. There are 27 tobacco retailers for every McDonald’s restaurant in the US. Easy access in stores contributes to myths about the popularity and danger of tobacco products and makes it harder to quit. ASPiRE highlights and studies issues around tobacco retailer density and its consequences, innovative retail tobacco control policies at the local level and their impact, and the public health burdens made worse by the pervasive availability of tobacco products across the US.


Three research projects

Retailer Density and Disease
Big City Tobacco Control
Tobacco Town

We are adding to the retail tobacco control evidence base through the combined findings of three unique research projects:

Retailer Density & Disease. Researchers at UNC are mapping 275,000 tobacco retailers across the U.S. between 2000-2017 and exploring the relationship between their density and tobacco-related illness.

Big City Tobacco Control. Led by Stanford, this project seeks to understand how the tobacco retail environment in a city may impede efforts to quit smoking. Researchers are surveying a panel of 2,400 adult smokers over 30 months and examine changes over time.

Tobacco Town. Researchers at Washington University are using agent-based modeling to study the impact of innovative retail policies in different types of communities, especially those with low-income and minority populations.


Three resource cores

Dissemina­tion & Implementa­tion
Data Management and Biostatistics
D & I
Data and Statistics

Our three shared resource cores provide support for our Center’s administration, data/statistics, and dissemination & implementation.

The Dissemination & Implementation (D&I) integrates best practices from Implementation Science in all stages of ASPiRE’s research to help translate, communicate, and disseminate new evidence. This helps to expedite and enhance the translation of the Center’s work for practitioners at the front lines of tobacco control.

Access to curated, integrated, and analyzable data is critical for achieving the public health mission of ASPiRE. The Data & Statistics Core meets these essential needs and supports study design and data analysis of big and complex data.

The Administrative Core allows ASPiRE to achieve its goals by providing strong leadership, fostering collaborations, building synergies, and providing fiscal oversight. The Core also convenes a 40-member Community Advisory Board to provide diverse, real-world perspectives to the research team.


Three institutions

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Stanford University
Washington University in
St. Louis

At the core of the ASPiRE Center are our three research institutions:

Each leads a unique project in support of ASPiRE’s mission.

Key personnel also include faculty and staff from the Brookings Institution, East Carolina University, and the University of Kentucky. Our team members have training in biostatistics, communication, epidemiology, evaluation research, health behavior, medicine, public policy, spatial statistics, and three areas of psychology.


Three Principal Investigators

Kurt M. Ribisl, PhD
Kurt M. Ribisl, who co-leads the Retailer Density & Disease project, is chair of the Department of Health Behavior at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His primary research interest is evaluating and improving the reach of population-level efforts to reduce tobacco use with a particular emphasis on policy and information technology.

Lisa Henriksen, PhD
Lisa Henriksen, who co-leads the Big City Tobacco Control project, is a senior research scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and a member of the Stanford Cancer Institute.  Henriksen’s work informs policy solutions for disease prevention and health promotion; her current research focuses on regulation of tobacco products and marketing.

Douglas A. Luke, PhD
Douglas A. Luke, who co-leads the Tobacco Town project, is a professor at the Brown School and director of the Center for Public Health Systems Science. Luke is a leading researcher in public health policy, systems science and tobacco control. He directs work focused primarily on the evaluation, dissemination and implementation of evidence-based public health policies.