Alaina and Jillian: Advocating for stronger tobacco policies

Alaina and Jillian know from their family’s experience that youth can be powerful when motivated to change the causes that mean the most to them. Together, they became passionate about advocacy after seeing firsthand the pain and challenges that a cancer diagnosis can have. By the time they were 18, they decided to join the summer student research program at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Changing policies to help other families

Jillian and Alaina Dhawan, at Parliament Hill.
Alaina and Jillian Dhawan
Both our grandfathers were impacted by cancer. We understand the tremendous toll cancer has on Canadians and can’t afford to slow down on cancer prevention, research, education, and advocacy. We owe it to cancer survivors and their loved ones.

Tobacco use is one of leading risk factors for disease and death in Canada and more than 45,000 Canadian deaths are due to smoking tobacco each year. About 75% of lung cancer deaths in Canada are caused by smoking tobacco. 

Alaina and Jillian became determined to collaborate more closely with policymakers and embraced the opportunity to work with the Canadian Cancer Society to help reduce the number of people impacted by cancer. 

Alaina and Jillian interned at the Canadian Cancer Society the summer before their second year at Queen’s University. They helped design a government relations campaign to increase the cost of tobacco retail license fees across Ontario and Alberta municipalities and are in conversation with municipal leaders and licensing departments to discuss this advocacy initiative. Advocating for higher-cost licensing fees will make these tobacco products less accessible, particularly to younger demographics, which could significantly reduce the rates of tobacco addiction and initiation among Canadians. Overall, this intervention aims to decrease the prevalence of lung cancer through preventive measures. 

“Working on this project has been a meaningful and rewarding experience,” says Jillian. “We’re always very excited to begin new opportunities, especially when the result contributes and improves the lives of others through a preventative approach.” 

Creating a legacy to inspire youth

Alaina and Jillian standing outside on opposite sides of a stone that says, “Queen’s University.”
Alaina and Jillian Dhawan

In 2023, Alaina and Jillian transitioned into Advocacy Constituent Team (ACT) Lead Volunteer roles where they are community representatives for their electoral district and coordinate activities with elected officials at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government. Alongside the CCS Advocacy Team and 60 other ACT Leads from across the country, Alaina and Jillian travelled to Parliament Hill to meet with Members of Parliament in April 2023 and 2024 to advocate for stronger cancer care policies, including stricter legislation for tobacco and e-cigarette control.  

“We are the future. We can influence policies and laws that have a direct impact on our generation,” says Jillian. “Inspiring youth to continue learning about cancer-related issues will increase awareness and health literacy – ultimately leading to healthier outcomes in the future.” 

Alaina and Jillian are recent graduates from the Bachelor of Health Sciences program at Queen’s University. Jillian is currently a first-year medical student at the University of Ottawa and Alaina plans to pursue a career in medicine in the near future with an interest in oncology.   

Our advocacy work with the Canadian Cancer Society has illuminated the importance of healthy policy to protect our most vulnerable populations,” says Alaina. “As aspiring physicians, we are committed to being champions of health, working to create healthier communities.

Changing public policy is one of the most effective tools for improving tobacco controls and helping those living with and beyond cancer. There are many ways you can advocate, no matter how much time you have.