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Public Health students gain hands-on experience with Missouri Eliminate Tobacco Use initiative

Nov. 1, 2022

Members of the ETU team at the summit in 2021 (from left) Cameron Reitan, Josie Ihnat (back row), Jamya Dean (front row), Mikayla Kitchen, Ginny Chadwick, Eriola Ayo, Michelle McDowell

By Gracie Hedenberg

The Missouri Eliminate Tobacco Use Initiative is a student-staffed effort to reduce tobacco use in Missouri, including on MU’s campus. Students Mikayla Kitchen, an undergraduate Public Health student, and Cameron Reitan, a Master of Public Health student, are both members of the MO ETU team, which provides hands-on public health experience before they enter the field.  

Eliminate Tobacco Use (ETU) is an initiative that began at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and within the University of Texas System. For the Missouri initiative, funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health, students and other stakeholders work to implement and enforce tobacco-free policies on campus, create education and awareness designed to prevent tobacco use and provide accessible cessation services for individuals who are ready to quit. 

“I can’t stress enough how much it’s the students doing all the work on this,” said Ginny Chadwick, who serves as the program coordinator, and is also an MPH alumna. “A lot of college can be theoretical, but they are getting first-hand experience doing the on-the-ground work.” 

Reitan works on multiple committees within the initiative. She and Kitchen recently assisted with the application for the initiative’s grant. Grant writing is one of the ways the students within the initiative can collaborate to learn from peers and from related professionals.  

“The initiative has had a huge impact on my education and knowledge,” Reitan said. “I’ve gotten to collaborate with health care professionals and be a part of a team and I really have liked that collaborative feel; I definitely want a career that encompasses that.” 

From left: Michelle McDowell, Taylor Iverson, Mikayla Kitchen, and Ginny Chadwick with the bill signed by Governor Parson that will provide more funding for tobacco cessation initiatives in Missouri.

Policy is the hot-button word within the initiative and within public health; it’s how things happen both on campus and at a state level. Both Kitchen and Reitan are on the Tobacco 21 committee with Chadwick, which educates state legislators on the positive effects of implementing a state law that would enforce the federal age restriction on tobacco sales to those over the age of 21. Both students named policy as one of the things they have learned the most about during their time at the initiative. 

“I thought I wanted to treat people in health care,” Kitchen said, “But then I came to college and I realized I love understanding root causes and prevention most, and I want to make change at the entry point of problems. This job has taught me that I really like policy work and it’s given me more insight into which aspect of policy I want to pursue, such as the political cycle or policy writing,” Kitchen said.  

“Before I joined the initiative, I had no idea what goes into policy, and I’ve learned so much from that,” Reitan said. “When I joined, I was looking for a position that brought me into the public health world, and this position has.”

In addition to advocating for policies with state legislators, Kitchen leads the team that plans the annual summit, a nationwide event of speakers and panels promoting tobacco control. 

As part of the summit committee, Kitchen meets with researchers from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the CDC and the Public Health Law Center, among others. These connections have been able to give her advice on what to do after graduation, and firsthand accounts of the type of public health policy work she wants to do in the future.

“Who I get to talk with and meet with is priceless,” Kitchen said. “And they get to see me work in a professional way. Though I am a student research assistant, I am the summit coordinator, not the student summit coordinator.”