WVU Public Health student contributes to research on youth access to e-cigarettes

West Virginia University student Diana Davidson has been interested in human behavior from a young age. During her master’s degree program in the School of Public Health, she has been able to apply her interest to an internship and research project that is aimed at protecting the health of youth across the United States.

Diana was first introduced to public health research through the WVU Research Apprenticeship Program during the junior year of her undergraduate sociology program in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. Through the program, she was connected with Elizabeth Claydon, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, who was investigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on diet, lifestyle and fertility treatments. The opportunity to present their work at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in 2021 was a turning point for Diana, as she found an interest in public health and a passion for research.

“I knew from then on that I wanted to research the dynamic between human behavior and health behavior choices,” she recalled. “This small chain of events led to my drive to continue research and a desire to receive a master’s degree once I graduated. I learned that through public health I can use my passion for making a positive impact on communities a reality and can improve health outcomes.”

While enrolled in the Master of Public Health program, Diana was given the opportunity to apply her personal experience and new-found passion for public health research during her applied practicum experience with Truth Initiative, a nonprofit public health organization committed to eliminating tobacco use and nicotine addiction.

“My interest in researching tobacco control stems from growing up in a family of smokers,” she said. “I knew it was a lifestyle I did not want to engage in, and I could not understand why anyone would engage with products that were known to cause harm. Further, it’s important that research is being done to understand the foundation of substance use and how healthcare professionals can best address the issue.”

Diana interned with the organization throughout the summer of 2023 and had the opportunity to work on social media surveillance, policy database sets, content coding and more. After noticing that her TikTok feed became tailored to the information she was searching online to complete assignments, she began to see numerous e-cigarette advertisements, product reviews and discreet shipping companies. Diana brought it to the attention of her team and together they decided to explore further.

Through this research, Diana found that social media content violating community guidelines was easily able to remain accessible for viewing and interaction. The findings were recently included in a published study co-authored by her colleagues, which was summarized in an article on Truth Initiative’s website.

“Given the widespread usage of social media among youth and their active engagement with the internet, it is crucial to recognize the frequency with which young people interact with tobacco-related content.

“West Virginia is a region that is heavily impacted by the substance use epidemic. Our state is grappling with these issues, underscoring the importance of comprehending the ramification of early nicotine exposure and its potential link to heightened risks of using other substances.”

Diana also has a particular interest in helping communities in West Virginia and the Appalachian region. Growing up in Laurel, Maryland, she developed an appreciation for the Mountain State during family visits in the summers, and she says her time at WVU showed her the passion, love and care that that is embedded within the campus community and the entire state.

Following graduation in May, Diana will begin her career in Washington, D.C., and continue exploring her interests as part of the Truth Initiative Schroeder Institute. Although she will miss the community she built within the School of Public Health and the Delta Omega Gamma Mu student organization, she is looking forward to building a network of peers in the field of public health.

“I will always remember the wonderful support and guidance I have received in the School of Public Health. I was surrounded by people who cared about nurturing my passions and shooting for the stars. I had a cheerleader in every corner of the school, and I built relationships with faculty, staff and students that I will cherish as I go on with my career.”



CONTACT: Jessica Wilmoth
Senior Communications Specialist
University Relations – Health Sciences