Master's Public Health, 2013
Using a conference to help network and share your research
By Sharday Mosurinjohn
About a year ago, Paula Muis was cheering on her Master’s of Public Health friends and colleagues as they were hooded at spring convocation. This year, it was her up there, fulfilling a long-held vision of crossing the stage with her two kids watching – “yeah, Mama!” came the proud whoop from the audience – and receiving a graduate degree in a field into which she’s poured her considerable energies for almost two decades.
Around the same time this summer, Muis presented her research findings at the Canadian Public Health Association’s (CPHA) annual conference (June 9-12 at the Ottawa Convention Centre), whose 2013 theme was, “Moving Public Health Forward: Evidence, Policy, Practice.” For over 10 years, Muis has worked as a Public Health Promoter and a Tobacco Enforcement Officer with Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health. Her research grew out of a program she spearheaded to improve retailer compliance in checking the IDs of tobacco buyers who look younger than 25. At CPHA, Muis felt like all the pieces of her recent efforts came together. The presentation “combined work and school by bringing research and analysis back to practice in the name of program improvement.”
Muis’ CPHA presentation, “Risk Factors Influencing Age Verification for Tobacco Purchases: An Analysis of the Who is 25? Program,” evaluated this initiative. Using “statistical analyses of administrative data from Who is 25? compliance checks that were done from 2007 to 2012 on tobacco retail stores” in the KFL&A Public Health area, Muis identified a number of factors “that were predictive of tobacco retailers not asking for identification (ID) from shoppers younger than 25 years old,” including store type, time of day, age of clerk, and previous sales to minors infractions. It turned out that shoppers were less likely to be asked for ID in gas stations, independent convenience stores, and supermarkets, than in chain convenience stores. Young clerks seemed to be less attuned to the age of young shoppers. Clerks, in general, tended to be a little more lax in the evenings. And the fines and warnings work – “clerks in stores that had previously received a fine or a warning with non-compliance for a sale to a minor, were less likely not to ask for ID.”
“Compliance check,” by the way, is shorthand for an ambiguously youthful undercover shopper (always actually between 19 and 24 years old) going into a store and trying to buy a tobacco product. If the clerk fails to ask for the shopper’s ID, or miscalculates their age, the shopper hands them a card that explains what the clerk should have done. If the clerk does in fact ask for ID and calculate age correctly, the shopper hands them a card that thanks the clerk for doing a good job. KFL&A’s tobacco control program wants retailers to succeed in asking for ID and calculating age correctly. “We equip stores with wheel calculators to easily figure out a shopper’s age from their ID, informational posters, stickers…everything but a mathematician standing behind the counter!” jokes Muis.
Overall, Muis concluded in her study that Who is 25? is an “effective compliance and education program” that will serve as an important model for similar efforts in the future. In fact, the program has already been adopted by a few other health agencies across Ontario. At CPHA, she established even more contacts interested in her work, including with Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care representatives. By attending a wide variety of conference sessions, she also discovered a great interest in work revolving around the built environment, and research having to do with health and physical activity.
In another timely shift, Muis is now stepping into a slightly different and expanded role at work, as the Tobacco Control Area Network Co-ordinator for the East Region. This position will see her liaising with six health units in Eastern Ontario supporting regional and local projects and activities in tobacco control. Her enthusiasm for working with KFL&A Public Health is as strong as ever. “It’s a happy place to work,” Muis says, “and one that values excellence, collaboration, and integrity. Those values inspire people to improve themselves.” (The occasional office treat of a coworker’s home baking never hurts morale either – somethings in moderation, after all…).
Never one to sit still, in the future Muis might pursue one of the interests roused by the CPHA sessions. For now, though, she’s thrilled to continue her work at KLF&A Public Health, to forge ahead with more home improvement projects (a DIY chicken coop and backyard pond already grace her yard), and, most of all, to spend quality time with the family who’s supported her through these past few years of study.