Every year, American Heart Association volunteers gather at their state capitols to advocate for public policies that will result in a world of longer, healthier lives. Here's what we've been up to:
November 6th was a busy day at the Wisconsin Capitol as AHA advocates and staff made their presence felt in support of raising the age of sale for tobacco products to 21.
The day began across the street at the Park Hotel, where advocates enjoyed a heart-healthy breakfast while they were inspired by fellow advocates and the bill sponsor, as well as learned more about the vaping epidemic from pediatrician and issue expert, Dr. Barbara Calkins of Children’s Wisconsin. The group also heard from youth advocate, Bryn Dresselhuys, who shared a video of her experience of teen vaping as a high school student.
Following lunch, advocates walked to the Capitol to attend a public hearing on Assembly Bill 422 and scheduled meetings with their Assembly and Senate members to share why they were asking for their support of Tobacco 21 legislation. A big thank you to all our amazing Wisconsin advocates for braving an early November snow storm to join us in creating a healthier, tobacco-free, future for Wisconsin’s kids.
Utah’s innovative approach to a Lobby Day event, hosting a dinner prior the start of the legislative session, proved a great success. Over 100 volunteers and lawmakers attended the event for dinner and to learn more about the vaping epidemic. The speakers for the evening included a Vice Principal, Stewart Hudnall, who brought a large paper box of the items that he has confiscated from students, enough to cover an entire banquet table. We also got to hear from Katie Bertram, a former youth vapor who relayed her experience with vaping and the health consequences she experienced. The event ended with an appeal for help from both volunteers and lawmakers to continue the work against the epidemic outlining the 6 points/areas that will be the focus of the 2020 Legislative Session.
After the presentation, a large number of attendees and legislators stayed to discuss the information presented and talk about the upcoming session and what can be done to combat tobacco use.
On January 23rd, over 100 You’re the Cure volunteers, survivors, students and teachers gathered in Phoenix for to raise awareness about the growing concerns around youth tobacco use and legislation that would limit youth access to tobacco products. Student groups from Cactus Shadows High School, Chandler High School, Iron Wood High School, and Mingus Union High School were all in attendance. During the event, volunteers met with lawmakers urging support for a package of tobacco control legislation.
The event also included Representative Blackman, the House Champion for Tobacco to 21 legislation which also would establish a tobacco retail license. Rep. Blackman offered a few inspirational words to the youth in attendance, made them promise to never smoke, and to ask their friends and family to stop smoking. Attendees were also joined by Victoria Stinson, Chair of the Advocacy Committee, and Emily Mohr from Mingus Union High School. Victoria spoke about her experience advocating with the American Heart Association and why participating in advocacy events was important to her. Emily shared her story and some real-life examples of the disturbing tobacco-use trends she has seen in high school and why she is so passionate about passing legislation that would limit youth access to tobacco products. Both Victoria and Emily highlighted how advocating for strong tobacco control legislation will improve the quality of life of their peers, improve the health of Arizona and could help prevent a peer from ever trying a cigarette.
Healthy Market VA, a coalition of organizations including the American Heart Association and others representing thousands of Virginians with chronic diseases, small business owners, and older adults spoke out on Tuesday, January 28 at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond to ensure that preserving life-saving patient protections and strengthening Virginia’s health insurance marketplace are top priorities for lawmakers this session.
Patients shared stories with legislators about how they’ve managed their chronic conditions and why it’s important for Virginia to ensure that pre-existing conditions are protected. Local small business owners discussed how current policies impact small business health coverage, and physician advocates talked about the need for access to care for Virginia’s most vulnerable.
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, the American Heart Association, in collaboration with the New Mexico Council on Allied Tobacco, celebrated “Day at the Capitol” in New Mexico. This was part of our efforts to raise awareness regarding the proposed tobacco legislation (Senate Bill 131 and House Bill 195) that require licensing of all tobacco retailers, including E-cigarette/vape stores; raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21, in compliance with the federal T21 law; and repeal the existing local preemption on tobacco sales. This tobacco regulatory legislation is being supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The Day at the Capitol began with breakfast and panel discussion on e-cigarette/vaping epidemic among youth, especially among New Mexico youth. The panel discussion featured Dr. Leah Nelson, Addiction Medicine Fellow, PGY4, UNMH; Dr. Dona Upson, MD, Pulmonologist, NM Veterans Affairs Health Care System-Raymond G. Murphy Medical Center; Dr. Robert Taylor, MD , Cardiologist and Board President, American Heart Association in Albuquerque; and David Tompkins , Manager, Community Health Initiatives, New Mexico Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program. This was followed by advocacy training for nearly 40 advocates. AHA advocates targeted members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and discussed the benefits of SB 131 and HB 195, especially repealing the local preemption of tobacco sales. This was followed by a press conference with HB 195 sponsors Rep. Liz Thomson and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, and Senate Public Affairs Committee Chairman Gerald Ortiz y Pino to focus on tobacco legislations.
On Wednesday, January 29th, over 60 American Heart Association youth advocates, volunteers, staff, and board members took over the Idaho Statehouse to talk with over 30 Legislators. Advocates received issue training on the importance of walking and biking infrastructure in communities, particularly for children, and the new and increasing danger from youth use of electronic smoking devices. Legislators were excited to welcome the students and learned about the efforts the American Heart Association is making in children’s health across Idaho. Based on the work of so many wonderful advocates, we are introducing legislation that will provide local communities funding for things like sidewalks and crosswalks, and we are drafting legislation that will ensure retailers of tobacco products and electronic smoking devices obtain permits for sales, and to ensure compliance checks are performed to prevent underage purchase of these harmful products.
On February 3rd, American Heart Association volunteers met in Annapolis where they connected with lawmakers on ways to build a healthier Maryland. Topics discussed included funding Head Start and passing laws that will keep dangerous tobacco away from youth. The advocates in attendance had the chance to share their stories with lawmakers, and show their enthusiasm for the mission of the American Heart Association.
The 2020 Tennessee State Lobby Day on February 4th was a bright and cheery experience for our You’re the Cure advocates!
The day began with a healthy grab & go breakfast for legislators. Volunteers and lawmakers enjoyed casual conversation and great food. From there, the team of American Heart Association volunteers attended legislative meetings, before staff partners and advocates journeyed through the underground tunnel at the Capitol for our team picture. During our meetings, we asked for support for a few key issues: SB1958/HB1933, the Telecommunicator CPR bill, the Water Access in Schools bill, and Senator Shane Reeves and Rep. Robin Smith's Tobacco 21 bill. We also passed out healthy goodie bags with a thank you message of support for all legislators and their assistants! Advocates enjoyed a healthy lunch, with the option to attend the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee hearing.
Go Red Day at the Capitol was held on February 6th with over 50 attendees and a number of state legislators at the Colorado State Capitol. The theme of this years’ event was curbing tobacco and nicotine use in Colorado. The program opened with facts about the vaping epidemic in Colorado, followed by four inspiring teens sharing their personal stories. Three of the teens, Amanda Barton, Emery McDowell, and Katherine Yu are all from three different high schools and are part of a youth advocacy group called Uprise that combats teen tobacco and nicotine use. They each had a moving story about how teen use has negatively affected them and their peers. Katherine’s story was especially moving having gone to school with a boy who was shot and killed over vaping devices. The fourth teen, Jada Pace, who is the daughter of long-time AHA volunteer and survivor, Lori Pace, is a middle schooler who talked about vaping starting at young ages.
Next, attendees heard from Denver AHA Board President, Dr. Ray Estacio who spoke about the existing science around the dangers of e-cigarettes. Following Dr. Estacio, Sara Schueneman, SVP of Colorado, introduced Lieutenant Governor Primavera who shared the importance of taking action to combat tobacco and nicotine use.
Following the formal program attendees visited the House and Senate galleries to hear tributes to Wear Red Day. Both chambers were full of lawmakers wearing red to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease. On the floor Representative McLachlan shared a personal story about the struggle she has been going through with her father recovering from a stroke.
On Thursday, February 13th, advocates gathered in Frankfort to speak out with us at the Kentucky Capitol.
The group of more than 100 dedicated Kentuckians met with lawmakers to urge support for Senate Bill 56, Tobacco 21 legislation that would codify Federal Tobacco 21 legislation and remove youth purchase, use and possession penalties. In addition, they asked lawmakers to support the creation of an excise tax on e-cigarettes equal to the tax on traditional cigarettes. And finally, our amazing advocates asked lawmakers to support Senate Bill 45, legislation that would set minimum nutrition, physical activity and screen time standards in all licensed early care and education centers.
On February 20th, a group made up of doctors, professors, students, and survivors made their way to the Capital. After a group breakfast and training session that covered the legislation and how to talk to lawmakers, they set out. They spent time talking to their legislators, legislative leaders, and the Governor’s office. They met in offices, pulled the lawmakers from the legislative floor, and talked to them in the hallways, making sure that their elected officials knew how they could make Minnesota a healthier place.
We talked about raising the tobacco sale age to 21 to match the federal government and protecting teens from addiction. We advocated for at least $6 million in funding for Safe Routes to Schools, and to set the default beverages in kids’ meals to be water or milk: both issues to help develop healthy habits in kids and to make sure that they don’t develop numerous conditions that grow into larger cardiovascular disease.
On Tuesday, February 18th, American Heart Association volunteers joined dozens of other health advocates at the state Capitol for Tobacco-Free Indiana Advocacy Day. These dedicated Hoosiers were there to urge lawmakers to pass House Bill 1006 or Senate Bill 1, statewide Tobacco 21 legislation. Currently, Indiana’s law targets kids with a fine of up to $500, while the fine on retailers who sell to them starts at just $200.
After a rally and lunch, advocates from across the state met with their lawmakers to send a clear message that they want their support for legislation that would remove penalties on youth and focus on helping them quit, while enhancing penalties on retailers who sell tobacco to our kids.
On February 26, American Heart Association volunteers and staff from across Mississippi gathered at the State Capitol in honor of American Heart Month. The day started with a light breakfast and a meet and greet with legislators, where volunteers and staff were able to ask members to support the AHA's top policy effort this session - to increase access to water in schools through water bottle filling stations. Afterwards, attendees went to the Senate Gallery to be recognized with an American Heart Month resolution. The day concluded with a press conference and light reception at the Governor's Mansion with the First Lady in honor of American Heart Month.
On February 19, Illinois Advocacy Committee members descended on the Capitol to educate on Women’s Heart Health during our Annual Go Red for Women day followed by an afternoon advocating for heart healthy policies. Advocates leveraged Heart month to discuss issues like including healthy beverages in restaurant kid meals and preventing the next generation of young people from tobacco use and nicotine addiction.
On February 26, advocates took to the Capitol to host the AHA's annual Legislative Breakfast. Lawmakers joined volunteers to talk about a variety of issues over coffee and the very popular protein bites. We were there to talk about raising the tobacco sale age to 21 to match the federal law, the importance of funding rural EMS services that same lives on a daily basis, and expanding SNAP benefits by doubling the money for families to buy fruits and vegetables. Lastly, we asked to fund a the Stroke Patient Care Program to better the lives of stroke patients in the state.