MONTPELIER - Cancer advocates, survivors and caregivers from across the state traveled to the State House last week to meet with Vermont lawmakers about the need to support legislation that could help prevent cancer. The advocates were joined by local cancer researchers and other high profile Vermonters, including Ervin Bryson, head coach of the Vermont Bucks Football team.
The visit was part of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s (ACS CAN) annual Cancer Action Day at the State House. Earlier in the day, ACS CAN joined Vermonters Taking Action Against Cancer (VTAAC) at the Comp. Cancer Commission Annual Meeting for a discussion about cancer research and the progress of the fight against cancer in Vermont.
The theme of the day was the prevention message of 3-4-50: that there are three behaviors – tobacco use, poor diet and lack of physical activity – that lead to four chronic diseases, including cancer, that kill 50 percent of Vermonters. This year, over 4,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer in Vermont and nearly 1,400 will lose their battle with the disease. But those who gathered at the State House last week are committed to working with legislators to change that.
Specifically, the volunteers urged lawmakers to support Senate Bill 88, which would increase the sale age of tobacco to 21. They urged lawmakers to restore the funding for tobacco control programs.
“We know that an increase in the legal sale age of tobacco can be a critical component of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control, and thus a powerful tool in the fight against cancer,” said Jill Sudhoff-Guerin, director of government relations for ACS CAN in Vermont. “Roughly 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. We can save countless lives and healthcare dollars if we tackle this problem by increasing the legal sale age of tobacco in Vermont.”
Among the advocates at last week’s event was Burlington High School student, Libby Branch. “I am an advocate for tobacco prevention because I think youth are not comprehending the long-term consequences, such as cancer, when they start using tobacco products,” said Branch.
Lawmakers also engaged with cancer researchers and physicians, along with cancer survivors as part of an interactive panel discussion during the VTAAC luncheon. During the lunch, Senator Becca Balint, (D-Windham), implored the researchers to ask lawmakers, “What is the biggest bang for our buck in terms of investing in prevention strategies?” Overwhelmingly, the researchers pointed out policies that prevent tobacco use and underscored the value of investing in prevention education in our schools.
Mia Hockett, primary care physician and mother to pediatric cancer survivor, Merin Blake said, “Policies like raising the sale age of tobacco have a long-term impact of protecting our kids from many different types of cancer and it can save countless healthcare dollars and lives.”
“Lawmakers have heard from Vermonters of all walks of life – cancer survivors, local youth, professional athletes – about their personal commitment to fighting cancer through advocacy and public policy,” said Sudhoff-Guerin, “and I hope their message resonated with lawmakers, and the Vermont legislature will commit to proven cancer fighting policies – including an increase in the tobacco sales age to 21.”