By Natalie M. Hamm, RN, MSPH

In early January 2019, I had the opportunity to represent ONS before the Virginia State Senate Finance Committee on the growing epidemic of electronic cigarettes and vaping device use among youth. In Richmond, VA, I delivered testimony about the dangerous health ramifications of this newer trend of tobacco use.

Northern Virginia State Senator Adam Ebbin’s aide asked ONS for testimony in his introduction of S.B. 1606, a bill instituting a special increased tax on e-cigarettes. Revenue derived from the proposed tax would be allocated to hire additional school health counselors and fund tobacco cessation programs.

Although I have previously written policy statements for the federal and state levels in my professional career, I had never served as a witness providing testimony as an expert oncology nurse. This new experience was far from nerve racking, however, because I had the support of ONS on different levels throughout the process and received helpful resources from which I could base my testimony.

ONS’s clinical and health policy staff helped me draft testimony that resonated with the committee, culminating in a unanimous vote to refer the bill to the next level of review. It was a huge success. As we left the room, policymakers approached me and thanked me for my work as a nurse. It was a humbling moment.

Senator Ebbin’s staff had initially contacted ONS because they recognize oncology nurses are respected for their cancer expertise and passion for treating and educating patients. When I stepped up to give my testimony, I spoke with confidence because I wanted to share the facts and reinforce that passion. The committee was clearly receptive to my comments.

For policymakers, a clinician’s viewpoint and expertise that’s backed by evidence-based research is extremely valuable during the decision-making process. ONS members have advocacy opportunities everywhere, whether on local, state, or federal levels. Seek out your local ONS chapter for more information about local advocacy opportunities and share your expertise with lawmakers. Oncology nurses have the unique chance to speak up and make a difference in health policy.