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Policy Into Practice at the Institute for Global Tobacco Control

Institute for global tobacco control world packs collection

“Being an active part of research that is later used by advocates to push for policy change has been a really positive and inspiring experience.” Caitlin Weiger, IGTC research assistant and PhD student in Health, Behavior and Society

The Institute for Global Tobacco Control (IGTC), established in 1998, has an ambitious mission: “Prevent death and disease from tobacco products by generating evidence to support effective tobacco control interventions.”

All of the Institute’s work is carried out by a team of dedicated people with backgrounds in public health research, policy and practice. Like many of JHSPH’s centers and institutes, IGTC employs both professionals and current students, offering both the opportunity to translate theory into practice.

Marela K. Minosa Photo by Howard Korn

Marela Kay R. Minosa, MSPH ’16, came to JHSPH with an undergraduate degree in statistics and, when she started her MSPH program in International Health, she thought she would apply those skills to lung cancer research. But after learning about tobacco control in her coursework and seminars, she shifted gears and interned with the Baltimore City Health Department’s Tobacco and Smoking Cessation Program.

“To say that I became obsessed with tobacco control after that experience would be an understatement,” Minosa says.

After completing her MSPH, she applied for a job at IGTC, drawn by “the ability to still work in academia while providing evidence-based research that supports advocacy efforts for global tobacco control.” Minosa was particularly interested in grounding her work in the Philippines, where her family lived before moving to the United States. Her very first project with IGTC was based in the Philippines, and she remains involved with various projects in the country.

“My favorite part of my job now is interacting with partner organizations and seeing how the work we do impacts tobacco control efforts in countries like the Philippines,” she says.

Minosa, now a senior data analyst with IGTC, is not alone in finding the Institute’s mission the perfect way to translate public health education and experience into action. 

IGTC packs collection

The Tobacco Package Surveillance System (TpackSS) team reviewing cigarette packs collected in China.

Here, three more IGTC staffers share how their work both as professionals and students has found a home and a focus in reducing tobacco use around the world:


Ayodeji Awopegba, photo by Chris HartloveNAME: Ayodeji Joseph Awopegba

HOMETOWN: Ibadan, Nigeria

EDUCATION: DDS, MPH ’13

CURRENT ROLE WITH IGTC: Research Program Manager

I’ve been with the institute for about four years now as a full-time staff member. 

[Before that] I worked for about a year as a graduate research assistant, mostly supporting the development of what can be regarded as the largest tobacco pack surveillance project in the world.

As a student I had to deal with the pressures of completing readings, homework and labs, studying for exams, completing my capstone, running a student organization, and balancing the hours I worked at IGTC. It was a lot to juggle, but I enjoyed each experience. As a full-time staffer, not having to worry about coursework helped make the load a little lighter. I was able to channel my focus and passion into the incredible work at the Institute.

Yes, and that’s why I love the breadth and flexibility of the MPH program at the Bloomberg School. I customized my program to include classes that developed skills and content important to the field of tobacco control. I focused on social and behavioral sciences, risk and policy, applied epidemiology, and biostatistics. I also completed the Global Tobacco Control certificate offered at the School.

I have always been drawn to public health. Early in dental school, I became active in student politics and in organizing health outreaches. Routinely, we would ask patients about smoking history, and I found that to be one of the most critical aspects of patient management: getting smokers to quit. Most dental procedures either cannot proceed or have a high risk of failure if the patient is a smoker.

I wanted to better understand why people used tobacco and how I could help my patients quit, so I searched for top public health programs that offered a certificate in tobacco control. Hopkins was the only one. (Hopkins is also consistently ranked #1, so that made my choice easy). I started following IGTC’s “Innovations in Tobacco Control” lecture series, as well as other resources from the Institute.

A number of IGTC projects I have managed or supported actually translate to life-changing policies on the ground. From Beijing to Bangladesh, Bangalore to Baltimore, IGTC’s projects provide quality research to support policy development in multiple countries, and develop capacity for tobacco control leadership.

It’s exciting to see data on how many lives we have saved by supporting the implementation of evidence-based policies in countries hardest hit by the tobacco epidemic through our work as part of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. The things we do every day contribute to protecting health and saving lives, millions at time (in keeping with the School’s vision).

I’ve contributed to numerous projects at IGTC such as building a surveillance system of tobacco packs, supporting the design and implementation of smoke-free and tobacco-free policies and developing a global e-cigarette policy database. I enjoy the exceptional mentorship provided by our director, Joanna Cohen, PhD, MHSc, and I learn so much from working with our outstanding research staff. A lot of our work is focused internationally, so we frequently coordinate with other institutions and partners such as the WHO, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, Vital Strategies, the CDC Foundation … the list goes on. I feel grateful for the opportunity to help improve the lives of many people.


Jenny Brown, photo by Chris HartloveNAME: Jenny Brown

HOMETOWN: Nipomo, CA

EDUCATION: MPH, currently a PhD student in Health, Behavior and Society

CURRENT ROLE WITH IGTC: Research Assistant

Four and a half years, formerly full-time and currently as graduate student research assistant.

The transition was pretty seamless. I had to take on a smaller role at IGTC after I became a student because of coursework, but since then, I have enjoyed working on a number of different projects. In addition to the Tobacco Pack Surveillance System, which I worked on full-time as an employee, I’ve also collected data in Canada to examine the tobacco industry response to the menthol bans in Alberta and Nova Scotia. I’ve traveled to Argentina, Nicaragua, South Africa and Switzerland to work on a project that monitored point-of-sale tobacco advertising. IGTC has also provided many professional development opportunities, and I’ve been able to attend conferences to share our research and learn more about tobacco control.

My coursework has strengthened my skills in designing studies and analyzing data, and I am now able to take a larger role in data analysis and writing papers for the research projects I work on. In turn, the work I have done at IGTC has informed my topical interests within the field of tobacco control and the research I plan to undertake for my dissertation.

Working at IGTC reaffirmed my interest in a career in research. During my time at IGTC, I have been fortunate to meet many amazing tobacco control policy advocates from around the globe, and their passion for preventing death and disease from tobacco is inspiring. Over the course of my career, I hope to help bridge the gap between research and policy.

IGTC has been very flexible about my hours, which has helped in balancing my job responsibilities with classes. I worked full-time last summer and work part-time during the school year. My schoolwork is my top priority, but the applied work I do at IGTC is what motivates me when I’m not particularly excited about classwork (e.g., when studying for midterms).

My mom has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She’s never smoked, but her parents smoked multiple packs a day when she was a child. Over the years, I’ve watched her on her journey with COPD and, at times, watched her struggle to breathe. I started working in tobacco control when I was 16. I volunteered to participate in a beach clean-up and then took the boxes of cigarette butts we collected to the local city council to demonstrate the need for smoke-free beaches. I’ve worked in tobacco control ever since, in either an advocacy or research capacity.


Caitlin Weiger, photo by Chris HartloveNAME: Caitlin Weiger

HOMETOWN: New Market, Maryland

EDUCATION: MHS ’17, currently a PhD student in Health, Behavior and Society

CURRENT ROLE WITH IGTC: Research Assistant

I’ve worked as a research assistant for about a year and a half.

 

When I work full-time over the summer, I am actively involved in trainings and data collection in other countries. When I’m part-time during the school year, I’m typically analyzing data, writing technical reports and preparing manuscripts.

The courses I take on methods—including epidemiologic methods, advanced quantitative methods, and qualitative methods—offer skills I continue to apply to my work at IGTC. I’m currently working on a case study of health warning label legislation in India that involves coding key informant interviews, and my coursework on qualitative methods has been enormously helpful.

Definitely. I’d thought about pursuing my doctoral degree before starting at IGTC, but working with multiple partners within the Bloomberg Initiative [to Reduce Tobacco Use] gave me a more concrete idea of potential career options that would be available with a PhD, and that really solidified my resolve to apply. Participating in research that advocates can later use to push for policy change has been a really positive and inspiring experience. It’s something I want to continue working toward, especially as I gain the skills and expertise to design and conduct research projects.

I wouldn’t say balance is necessarily easy to achieve—and it’s something I continue to work on—but I wouldn’t change either opportunity. The experiences I’ve had at IGTC provide a practical application for the skills I’m developing in class and allow me to participate in projects that can make a substantial contribution to public health. It’s a challenge, but I think it will prepare me for a life in research where there will always be competing demands.

My undergrad degree is in psychology. Behavior change relies heavily on psychological principles, but has broader applications that I find really appealing and rewarding. Seeing the health consequences of problematic health behaviors, especially smoking, has strongly motivated my interest in tobacco control policy research.

I worked at IGTC as part of my research practicum requirement for the MHS program. It was an excellent introduction to international research, working on a research team and tobacco control as a topical area. The diversity of research topics within tobacco control gave me a lot of options, as well as the opportunity to work with faculty with backgrounds in communications, public health, international health, and sociology. I am very focused on tobacco control as my research interest and that definitely informed my choice to stay at Hopkins, where I can work both on international and national tobacco control research.


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STUDENT INVOLVEMENT AT IGTC