Rebecca Williams

MHS, PhD, Research Associate, School of Medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill, Cancer Prevention and Control

Rebecca Williams

Research Associate, School of Medicine
UNC-Chapel Hill
Cancer Prevention and Control


Area of interest

The goal of the proposed research is to conduct extensive surveillance of the online retail environment for tobacco, evaluating the implementation and impact of state and federal policies on this industry’s practices. I have the expertise, leadership, and motivation necessary to successfully carry out the proposed work. I have been conducting in-depth research on this industry since 1999, pioneering protocols for tobacco vendor website content analysis and purchase surveys intended to evaluate vendor practices with regard to youth access prevention, payment and shipping requirements, and tax evasion. Started while conducting my doctoral studies at UNC, the Internet Cigarette Vendors Study has been my main research focus for the past twelve years, and mine is the only research team in the world that has studied the sales and marketing practices of this industry on an in-depth, ongoing basis. My dissertation focused on youth access to cigarettes online based on three years of content analysis collected in the study and a purchase survey assessing vendor compliance with California’s youth access law for Internet cigarette sales.
In addition to my role as co-investigator or PI on several grants supporting the study, I have been the project director of the study from the beginning, overseeing all day to day operations, developing study protocols and advanced data collection tools, managing IRB applications, conducting data analysis, writing reports and publications, managing budgets, collaborating with other researchers, and training and managing a research team including a project manager and up to 14 data collectors. In conjunction with my mentor and co-investigator, Dr. Kurt Ribisl, I developed the Quarantine of Unhealthy Internet Trade (QUIT) Framework, a suggested regulatory framework for restricting the sale of dangerous products online, which has been applied in practice to online tobacco sales by federal regulators, resulting in six federal laws and agreements, the effects of which will be evaluated by the proposed study. I have also taken the lessons learned from studying online tobacco sales and applied them to other research areas as well, including completing content analysis and a youth purchase survey of Internet alcohol vendors and being tasked by the National Association of Attorneys General as PI of a study evaluating the ease with which minors can bypass the age verification techniques used by tobacco company corporate brand marketing websites.
As a result of my previous experiences, I am aware of the importance of frequent communication between project members and have experience in constructing realistic research plans, timelines, and budgets, especially as related to this area of research. The current application builds logically on my prior work, and I have chosen a co-investigator (Dr. Ribisl) who will provide additional expertise based on his extensive experience in tobacco control and specifically in the field of retail and Internet tobacco sales. In summary, I have demonstrated an extensive record of successful and productive research in the area of Internet tobacco sales, and my expertise and relevant administrative experience have prepared me to lead the proposed project.

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