Dr. Adam Lang receives Public Service Award from the American Thoracic Society

This award recognizes the advances Adam Edward Lang, Pharm.D., has made on tobacco and nicotine dependence treatment for military service members.

By Keith Brooks VCU School of Medicine keith.brooks@vcuhealth.org

June 22, 2022

Adam Edward Lang, Pharm.D., a clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, is this year’s recipient of the American Thoracic Society’s Public Service Award

With more than 16,000 members worldwide, the American Thoracic Society, or ATS, has been the leading professional organization in respiratory health since 1905. The ATS's Public Service Award recognizes contributions to public and population health equity in respiratory health, critical illness and sleep disorders. Lang won the award for his pioneering research and advocacy in the field of tobacco and nicotine dependence treatment, particularly in the military population, and for his tobacco treatment campaign in anticipation of the pandemic to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19. 

“I was speechless when I first got the call about it,” said Lang, who joined the ATS in 2020. Lang credits much of his success to the mentorship he has received through the society. “To be awarded by an organization full of so many highly accomplished practitioners, researchers and scholars, not only in the area of tobacco, but respiratory medicine as a whole, really is an honor.” 

Addressing the problem 

Lang studies and advocates for tobacco and nicotine dependence treatment for military personnel as well as for policy reform. He is currently the chief of Health Management and deputy chief of the Department of Pharmacy at McDonald Army Health Center, the medical facility on Fort Eustis in Newport News, Va. In 2017, when he began working on Fort Eustis, he was immediately struck by how many soldiers regularly smoked, vaped or chewed tobacco. 

“Their job is to be as healthy and ready as possible, like professional athletes,” Lang said. “I wanted to find out why and how big the problem was and what we could do to help our soldiers become healthier.”  

In 2019, Lang began collecting data on tobacco use at Fort Eustis. Through the use of surveys, he discovered that nearly 31% of senior soldiers, who train new recruits, use nicotine products. Among the trainees, more than 35% were nicotine product users. Lang said it is likely that the high level of use among senior soldiers is one of the multiple factors contributing to the high rates of use seen in the trainee population.  

Lang used his findings to help convince leaders at Fort Eustis to implement a nicotine-free policy during advanced individual training, or AIT, a specialized phase of Army training during which soldiers have more freedom than in basic training. The policy promotes abstinence over the use of nicotine, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco and vaping products.   

When implementing the nicotine-free policy, Lang found that providing trainees with education, resources, and treatment substantially reduced their interest in using nicotine products again. To help guide change in this area, he has written the framework for implementing a nicotine-free policy in the United States military.        

Transformative change 

The next step for Lang is to study the long-term impacts of the nicotine-free policy inspired by his initial research. He is working to obtain funding to compare trainee populations that have and have not experienced nicotine-free policies with long-term follow-up. 

As Lang continues providing care and conducting research at Fort Eustis, he has lofty ambitions for the health of servicemembers across the United States.   

“The overall goal is to have a nicotine-free military. Nicotine significantly impacts readiness and puts a huge burden on the health of our soldiers and active-duty service members,” Lang said. “You want people to serve in the military and reap the benefits of their service, not serve, retire and have serious chronic health conditions where they spend a lot of their time after the military in the hospital or clinic.”