This month I got the chance to travel to our beautiful state capitol building on March 2nd for the AHA Lobby Day! This was the second time that I was able to participate in this event at the state level, and the experience was made even better by the fact that this time we were in the newly refinished Capitol building in Cheyenne. If you haven’t gone to see it and visit your legislators yet, you need to! It is an absolutely stunning building!
hero_image_alt_text===Cheyenne Buyert and Miss Wyoming at State Capitol
thumbnail_alt_text===Cheyenne Buyert and Miss Wyoming at State Capitol
I attended Lobby Day with my close friend and current Miss Wyoming, Jordan, as well as some of Wyoming’s most passionate advocates in the healthcare industry. After a briefing from our Government Relations Director with the AHA, Mike Mores, we launched into speaking with legislators from both the House and Senate over lunch and pulling them from the floor during their sessions. I know it can sound a little intimidating, but these senators and representatives actually work for you as a Wyoming citizen, and they’re super friendly, relatable, and easy to speak to about issues!
Legislators are just people who happen to work at the Capitol a number of weeks out of the year, but the rest of the time they are home in their communities living ordinary lives just like you and me. My experience has been that they are pretty forthcoming with their opinions and willing to share their personal stories and positions with you while engaging in respectful debate- and that’s how it should be, even if you disagree. In fact, I had even more fun this time around because I personally knew multiple legislators from various districts from the last time I was at the Capitol speaking to them- and they remembered me!
The main issues that we lobbied pertained to vape taxation (HB-73) and Tobacco 21 laws (SF-50). We encouraged our local representatives and senators to support legislation that taxes all forms of e-cigarettes at a minimum of 20% wholesale price and to raise the age of eligibility to purchase tobacco products at the state level to 21 years, without penalties for the consumers themselves. The passing of these laws is important in all states, because e-cigarette use is on the rise among youth. Unfortunately, once someone becomes hooked on a product like Juul, (which has as much nicotine in a single pod as an entire pack of regular cigarettes), research shows that they are more likely to extend their use into other tobacco products as well. As a result, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, claiming the lives of 480,000 Americans yearly. Nicotine is highly addictive to all ages, and its use can lead to serious cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke- no matter your age.
We have to prevent our youth from starting to use these products. The youth are our future. Taxing these products and raising the age to purchase them would dramatically reduce access to these products for teenagers, who are most vulnerable in this case. If we can discourage young people from purchasing tobacco and vaping products in the first place, the likelihood of them ever becoming addicted is greatly diminished- and that’s important! At the very least, state legislation should be regulating and taxing vaping products in a manner equal to that of other tobacco products- which is 20% of their wholesale price. To take it a step further, that money could in turn be used to support tobacco education, prevention, and cessation programs in our state, which has one of the highest rates of tobacco usage! Today, nearly 30% of Wyoming high school students admit to vaping. Nationwide, the rate has doubled since 2016, becoming a true epidemic among our youth.
Fun fact: Did you know that each year, the state of Wyoming spends $258 million in direct health costs related to tobacco? I believe this money could be put to much better use through public education and training for retailers who sell tobacco and are highly influenced by big industry. In addition, research shows that 95% of adult smokers start before they turn 21, and in our state alone, 200 kids under the age of 18 adopt this habit each year. Interestingly, the AHA has suggested that the legal penalties associated with underage tobacco use be placed upon those selling the products (the retailers themselves), rather than the youth and employees themselves! Personally, I love that idea.
Again, I’m truly grateful for the opportunity I had to speak with some of our Wyoming legislators on these topics, and get their opinions! However, in the future, these issues will continue to need your support. Your voice matters as an advocate, and it’s truly such an empowering experience to travel to the state Capitol to express that. I hope you all find the courage to do that in the near future, or simply to send an email to your senator or representative today! One step at a time, we can continue working toward a healthy future for all generations.
Forever your Miss Wyoming 2017 & AHA Advocate,