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Blair Horner: How Does New York Measure Up in Taking on Cancer?

New York receives a decent, but mixed, review for its legislative work to combat cancer, according to a new report,  How Do You Measure up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality (www.acscan.org) issued by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

The report is designed to offer a guide to state policymakers on how best to tackle cancer.  Not surprisingly, the report focuses much of its analysis on tobacco use.  Roughly one third of all cancers are caused by smoking.  In fact, lung cancer is the number one cancer killer – and virtually all lung cancers are caused by smoking.

New York did a pretty good job in most of the seven areas studied in the report.  When it comes to funding breast and cervical cancer early detection program funding, New York met all of the criteria in the report.

New York’s ban on smoking in public and work places was one of the most comprehensive in the nation, according to the report.  In addition, New York has the highest tobacco taxes in the nation – a high tax helps reduce tobacco consumption (particularly among children) and can save lives.

New York has a good system of helping cancer patients get treatment for their pain and other distress – although the report found that more needs to be done. 

In addition, New York recently broadened its ban on teens’ use of indoor tanning beds.  The new law went into effect this week that bans teens 16 years of age and younger from using indoor tanning beds.  The report issues the highest scores for states that ban indoor tanning for all minors, but New York’s new law is still one of the stronger ones in the nation.

New York’s biggest shortcoming is its failure to adequately fund anti-tobacco efforts.  Funding for the state’s Tobacco Control Program is only half of what it was four years ago.  Once the fifth most comprehensive tobacco control program in the nation, New York has now slipped to 20th.

It’s important for policymakers to take the cancer fight seriously.  Overall, one in two men and one in three women will get a cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes.  It is estimated that in 2012, nearly 110,000 New Yorkers will receive a cancer diagnosis and there will be over 34,000 cancer deaths this year.

It should also be a call to action for policymakers.

The blueprint for that action is available, thanks to the folks at the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

In New York, the top action must be to begin restoring funding to the state’s tobacco control program.  According to the experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New York should be investing $250 million of the $2 billion it raises in tobacco revenues on programs to help smokers to quit and to keep kids from smoking.

Moreover, the state should use the implementation of the federal health care reform law to ensure that cancer screening programs are available to everyone in the state.  It should begin the discussions to further strengthen its indoor bed ban for teens.  And it should make sure that it’s doing all it can to ensure that cancer patients have the care they need to fight this deadly disease.

Much of the fight against cancer is waged in hospitals and research labs.  But government policymaking is another important arena.

Here’s hoping that New York’s policymakers double down on the fight against cancer.

Blair Horner is the Vice President for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division. His commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Cancer Society.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.