A unique program at the University of Washington School of Public Health trains future public health leaders and health sciences professionals to address the tobacco epidemic through classroom and applied study.
[Photo: Ms. Sarah Ross-Viles]
Over the past 15 years, the Tobacco Studies Program, housed within the school’s Department of Health Services, has built a pipeline of skilled researchers and clinicians to organizations focused on tobacco prevention, cessation and control.
“Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and globally,” says Ms. Sarah Ross-Viles, director of the program and clinical instructor of health services at the School. “We’re building the next generation of tobacco experts. We’re training a workforce to address the biggest threat to health for so many people.”
The Tobacco Studies Program has offered courses to more than 350 students and 500 drop-in visitors. Every spring quarter, students can take an elective called Tobacco and Public Health, which provides a comprehensive overview of the history, health effects, policy, prevention and treatment of tobacco use. The program also offers an online elective every other quarter, called Tobacco-related Health Disparities and Social Justice. In the course, students confront pressing issues of disproportionate tobacco use – why and how tobacco use differs based on socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation and how to promote equity in prevention.
“We build compassion for people who are addicted to tobacco and by understanding the factors and environments that lead to tobacco use,” Ms. Ross-Viles says. “I think learning about tobacco through a social justice lens improves how we approach the problem.”
The Tobacco Studies Program also provides scholarship opportunities to masters and doctoral students at Washington for their studies of tobacco and public health. More than 50 scholars have graduated from the program to date, each completing a thesis or capstone on a tobacco-related project. For example:
Ms. Hena Parveen, a current scholar and MPH student in the School’s Community-Oriented Public Health Practice program, is working on two key elements of an anti-vaping campaign for Seattle public schools, led by the Tobacco Prevention Program at Public Health – Seattle & King County.
Ms. Elizabeth Medeiros, a former scholar and alumna of the Department of Health Services, studied the attitudes and perceptions of student leaders about implementing tobacco-free campus policies at Washington. Ms. Medeiros now works at twashington’s Health Promotion Research Center.
Ms. Juliet D’Alessandro, a former scholar and also an alumna of health services, used GPS software to study the links between tobacco retail density, household income and minority populations. Ms. D’Alessandro now works as a healthy communities specialist at Snohomish Health District.
Mr. Nick Fradkin, a former scholar and SPH alum, completed his thesis on why tobacco control prevention and treatment is not commonly considered a philanthropic cause.
To learn more about the program, visit http://depts.washington.edu/tobacco/.