Hamline News

Public Health Class Advocated for Tobacco Use Prevention Laws

After weeks of preparation, students in Professor Susi Keefe’s Public Health, Justice and the Law class advocated for tobacco use prevention legislation at the Minnesota capital with elected officials.

Before the students talked to lawmakers, staff from the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota (ANSR) and Tobacco-Free Alliance spent three weeks preparing the class for the annual Week of Action held by the Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a statewide coalition working to end tobacco addiction.

“I prepared by watching the videos for the Week of Action and thinking about why tobacco was an issue I felt I could talk about,” said Essence Boe ’23, a public health sciences major. “I didn't commonly pay attention to the effect or involvement that tobacco had in my life, so I decided to think about the most prominent experiences and events in which tobacco appeared.”

During the Week of Action students were assigned to speak with representatives from their districts. All the meetings happened via Zoom.

Ella Deutsch ’21, a third-year criminology and criminal justice major and public health minor who is planning to graduate in fall 2021, met with Representative Athena Hollins and Senator John Marty.

“When I was actually in the meetings with Representative Hollins and Senator Marty, I felt really empowered,” said Deutsch. “I have never talked to any person in legislation about something that is important to me. I felt at ease that they were listening and that they cared about the same issues that I do.”

Advocacy was a new experience for most of the students. Keefe noted that during a class meeting, students expressed that they were surprised to feel welcomed and heard, and to realize that lawmakers are “regular people.”

“Representative [Shelly] Christensen was very nice and shared her own story of family addiction and personal addiction,” said Boe. “I felt she was very vulnerable in how she spoke as she revealed that to us because it would also affect the way we would look at her.”

According to Katie Engman, the program director for policy and compliance with
ANSR, the students were successful in their conversations, despite being new to advocacy.

“I had a few Hamline students in my group to meet with state elected officials, and they were FABULOUS!” wrote Engman in an email. “They have great insight and a very important voice in this conversation.”

A Useful Skill for the Future

Keefe noted that as a result of the experience, students understand that they have power and ability to influence laws.

“I would like to go into rehabilitation work, and I know that I will have to advocate for the rights of offenders. This is a great experience to have now so that when I actually have to do it I won't be as nervous about it,” said Deutsch.

“As a public health major, we seek out ways of which to decrease health disparities and ensure the overall health of the entire population,” said Boe, who also wrote an op-ed on tobacco use prevention for the class.

For now, Deutsch, Boe, and the rest of Keefe’s class will apply what they learned to Sexual Violence Awareness Month, and a final unit in which the students will be responsible for developing a plan of action around reproductive justice.

One aspect of the plan of action will be collaboration with Hamline's Center for Justice and Law, the Ostara Initiative, the Minnesota Prison Doula Project, and the Alabama Birth Project for a virtual conference titled Reproductive (In)Justice: Birth Behind Bars. The event will take place on Friday, April 30, 2021. Register here.


Written by staff.