Making a Difference: Lobbying Legislators to Fight Cancer
How has cancer affected your life?
These days, we have all been touched by this horrible disease in some way - we may have personally been through a diagnosis, or watched family or friends struggle with it.
As a cancer researcher, part of my job is to learn how cancer develops and find new ways to fight it. The other part of my job is to share our work with the community and show you how you can make a difference in this fight.
Last week I had the opportunity to spend the day at the Massachusetts State House lobbying state legislators for a bill that would change the statewide age to buy tobacco to 21.
Let's talk a little about lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death and will kill more people than prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer. COMBINED. Smoking significantly increases the risk of lung cancer (as well as other cancer types) and therefore, a large proportion of lung cancer-related deaths are completely preventable.
I am pretty involved with the American Cancer Society or ACS, a volunteer health organization whose stated mission is "to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer."
You're going to read a lot about the ACS here on the blog as I am a huge supporter of their mission and the impact they have not only on cancer patients and families, but on promoting cancer research. In fact, I am a proud ACS-funded researcher.
The advocacy organization of the ACS is called the ACS Cancer Advocacy Network, or ACS-CAN. This group's mission is to impact public policy in ways that include "a strong focus on preventing cancer, seeking new cures and treatments and ensuring all Americans have access to the medical care that could save their life. We also support the determination and courage of cancer patients and survivors by working to improve their quality of life both during treatment and after it has ended."
I participated in the ACS-CAN lobby day in Boston to influence public policy to help prevent one of the most preventable cancers: lung cancer.
Massachusetts has a bill under consideration that would change the age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21. It would also prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in smoke-free workplaces and prohibit the sale of tobacco at pharmacies.
So why this issue?
Well, it turns out that over 90% of tobacco users became addicted to tobacco before the age of 21. This number is HUGE. Just in the state of Massachusetts, 9000 people a year die from PREVENTABLE tobacco-related causes and over FOUR BILLION dollars in health care costs are attributed to tobacco. Again, just in the state of Massachusetts.
Restricting youth access to tobacco is the first step to preventing early addiction. If we can save lives by stopping kids from smoking that first cigarette, those billions of dollars can go to other important causes.
The National Institutes of Health reported that in 2016, 283 million dollars went to lung cancer research. If we can prevent initial access to tobacco, we will have a drastically reduced population with lung cancer and many lives saved. Many of those research dollars could then be used to combat other deadly cancers, like pancreatic cancer, for which the prognosis continues to be quite poor, and for which research dollars totaled only 152 million in 2016.
During the day at the State House, I met with legislators to explain the impact of tobacco on human health and to advocate for this bill, which could have a real impact on preventing cancer. If you live in Massachusetts, you can sign the petition here.
But it's not just me who can do this. You can too. Anyone can.
It doesn't take much to reach out to your local or national legislator, by phone, email, or social media. If you care about impacting policy related to cancer, check out the ACS-CAN website and sign up to be a volunteer, or check out the petitions you can sign to show your support.
So much of this action you can do from your couch without any special training. And we need your help! Help make a difference in the lives of cancer patients and families and have a say about where your tax dollars go.
It's rare that we get the opportunity to make a difference - we are all incredibly busy and we all have our own lives. But cancer affects all of us, and showing your support for cancer research and policies that will impact cancer prevention helps make life a little better for everyone.
Share how you get involved in the comments or on social media!
Statistics from www.cancer.org.