Award is Highest Honor Presented by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network 

For Immediate Release: September 21, 2020

BOSTON – Massachusetts Senator John Keenan received the National Distinguished Advocacy Award, the most prestigious award presented by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), in recognition of his significant contributions to the fight against cancer. Sen. Keenan received the award along with Massachusetts State Representative Danielle Gregoire, and both were recognized for their role as champions of first-in-the-nation legislation that prohibits the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol flavors, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and cigars, in the Commonwealth. 

ACS CAN, the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, presents the annual award to select lawmakers who demonstrate outstanding leadership in the area of cancer-related public policy advocacy. 

Sen. Keenan decided to get involved in the fight against the tobacco industry after learning from students in his district that e-cigarette use by young people was spiraling out of control, and that they felt they were being targeted by the tobacco industry.  

“Youth smoking rates were plummeting,” noted Keenan, “so Big Tobacco started targeting our kids with e-cigarettes, filled with highly addictive nicotine. They did it with flavors like mango and mint, with innocent looking devices, and through social media. Before parents and educators knew it, a whole generation was at risk.” 

In 2019, Sen. Keenan and Rep. Gregoire teamed up with public health advocates to file a bill that would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products in the Commonwealth. After endlessly working to convince their colleagues, fighting back against the tobacco lobbyists, and defeating countless amendments that would have weakened the legislation, the pair garnered overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill. Their efforts resulted in the passage of the first-in-the-nation legislation to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, anywhere in Massachusetts. 

“Both Sen. Keenan and Rep. Gregoire exemplify what it means to be passionate advocates for public health,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of ACS CAN. “Their bicameral collaboration and commitment to advancing lifesaving legislation is a testament to their deep commitment to protecting youth and Black, Latino and LGBTQ communities that are disproportionately impacted by the burden of tobacco use. It’s thanks to their unwavering determination that future generations will be protected from a lifetime of tobacco addiction.”  

“We are fortunate to have two incredible legislators on our side in the fight against Big Tobacco,” said Marc Hymovitz, director of Government Relations for ACS CAN in Massachusetts. “To say Sen. Keenan and Rep. Gregoire were passionate about this issue is an understatement – they were nothing short of legislative champions and key to our victory in keeping flavored tobacco out of the hands of Massachusetts’ kids, our minority communities, and other targeted groups.” 

“I could not have done this work without the incredible advocacy of young people in my district who came to me with a hope for a more healthy future for themselves, their siblings, and their peers,” said Sen. John Keenan. “It was an honor to work with young people across the Commonwealth, Rep. Gregoire, and advocates from the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association to stand up to Big Tobacco and make Massachusetts a leader in tobacco reform.”  

The award was presented on Sept. 15 as part of the annual ACS CAN Leadership Summit and Lobby Day. Nearly 700 cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones met virtually with their elected officials to urge them to support policies that increase funding for cancer research and prevention programs and address barriers that prevent diverse populations from enrolling in clinical trials.