AORN Blog - The Periop Life

Surgical Smoke: 3 Strategies to Engage Legislators

Surgeon and Periop Nurses working in an operating room.

April 18, 2022


As of April 2022, seven states now require surgical smoke evacuation in all surgical settings, and other states continue to consider similar laws.

Such successes continue to inspire nurses to speak directly to their state elected officials about why requiring surgical smoke management in their ORs is so important … but it takes more than sharing your story to gain the support of legislators, according to Rebecca Vortman, DNP, RN, CNOR, NEA-BC and Penny J. Smalley, RN, CMLSO.

Last year these perioperative safety advocates dedicated significant time and effort to successfully convince Illinois legislators to pass smoke evacuation legislation.

Vortman and Smalley are inspired to help other nurses get involved in the political arena on this important topic and shared the details of their grassroots approach at AORN Global Surgical Conference & Expo in New Orleans this past March.

While they admit it takes savvy, hard work, relationship building, and thorough knowledge of the management of surgical smoke, they say these three strategies made the difference in their legislative win:

  1. Be clear, concise, and accurate about the risks of exposure to surgical smoke.

“You have to be able to convey your message in a way that keeps the attention of the legislator while maintaining your credibility,” Vortman stresses. She suggests sharing published, reliable facts that a legislator can understand, and information that can withstand questions posed by those in opposition. “We summarized research studies, referred to standards and evidence-based practices, avoided commercial bias, and explained why surgical smoke is a problem and what can be done about it.”

Smalley stresses that nurses who are going to speak to legislators must be well informed, not only about surgical smoke management, but also about the legislative process.

  1. Discuss a variety of practical and accessible solutions.

Once a nurse has presented the evidence on the risks of exposure to surgical smoke, it’s important to explain how a solution can be implemented. Smalley says, “Legislators need to know that there is an evacuation device for every surgical setting without making any changes to either the operating suite, or to the surgeon’s surgical techniques.”

  1. Make surgical smoke management personal.

For Vortman, environmental safety in the OR is about protecting friends, colleagues, and future perioperative personnel. “It’s also about protecting the people I love, including my daughter who may decide one day to choose nursing as her career when she completes her education.”

We all know a nurse or surgeon or other member of the team who has been affected by surgical smoke exposure, Smalley adds. “Making this relatable helps reinforce the need for mandating proper management of surgical smoke in every OR, every day, and on every case.”

“Illinois was one of three states that enacted surgical smoke evacuation legislation in 2021,” said Jennifer Pennock, AORN Associate Director of Government Affairs. “Where legislation has been successful, we have had a strong local team of advocates.” Members have access to a number of AORN advocacy resources, including AORN’s Surgical Smoke Guideline, AORN Government Affairs surgical smoke legislative materials, talking points, and information, and AORN’s National Legislative Forum which is a monthly call to discuss federal and state government affairs efforts and hear AORN Board updates.

AORN Global Surgical Conference & Expo. March 19-23, 2022 - New Orleans, LA. Register Now