Advocacy Group Issues State Report Cards On Cancer Prevention

Aug 25, 2014

An annual report from the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society is out, grading each state on various cancer prevention and cancer fighting policies. The report card is mixed for New York.

It’s the 12th year for the ACS Cancer Action Network report, which investigates legislative activity on the state level to reduce cancer and mortality. It finds that New York State measured up to 50 percent of the benchmarks. A color-coded system classifies how well a state is doing in each issue. Green shows that a state has adopted evidence-based policies and best practices; yellow indicates moderate movement toward the benchmark; and red shows where states are falling short. Bill Sherman is vice president for government relations for the ACS Cancer Action Network.  “We know in 2014, 107,000 people in New York will be diagnosed with cancer and nearly 35,000 people, 35,000 New Yorkers will die this year of cancer,” Sherman says. “And so to us it’s a matter of life and death.”

He talks about where New York received its only red.

“The biggest area of concern really is New York scores the worst that they could on tobacco prevention funding,” says Sherman. “And also Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation really needs improvement as well.”

New York scored a yellow for Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation. Connecticut and Massachusetts also received reds for tobacco prevention funding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommendations for each state concerning how much should be spent on tobacco prevention. New York spends $39 million, which Sherman says is less than 20 percent of the CDC recommended $203 million. He says five years ago, the state legislature appropriated $85 million, a spending level Sherman would like to see again.  

A state Department of Health spokesperson says New York’s tobacco control program continues to operate effective, evidence-based programs to help people quit smoking and prevent others from starting, noting that since the program’s inception in 2000, smoking rates declined 56 percent among high school-age youth and 70 percent among middle-school age youth. The spokesperson says the Health Department funds New York’s Smokers’ Quitline; has an aggressive media campaign that includes television spots encouraging smokers to get help to stop smoking; and funds local contractors who cover every county in the state to help create a tobacco-free environment and educate the public about the continuing burden of tobacco.

Meanwhile, says Sherman, New York is a leader in a few areas.

“New York is a leader in our cigarette tax rates,” says Sherman. “We’re actually the top tax rate for cigarettes in the country, and the reason why that’s so important is the cost of cigarettes has the single most impact on cigarette use. So when the cost of cigarettes increases by 10 percent, our research shows that youth smoking rates reduce by 6.5 percent and overall cigarette consumption by 4 percent.”

Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont also are leaders in this area. And, with the exception of Vermont, these states scored the highest possible for tobacco price and tax increases over time.

“So our benchmark is that every six years a state should at least increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by one dollar,” Sherman says. “New York and Massachusetts have both done that. Vermont did not do that. They’re in the middle category because they’ve raised their taxes between 50 cents and 99 cents.”

New York also is a leader in the category of Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Funding.

“The reason that they scored so well there is they’re having common-sense policies to provide access to people says, for example, who receive Medicaid, or Medicaid beneficiaries, and also the amount of public information that’s available, that the Department of Health issues in terms of cancer screening recommendations,” says Sherman. “But then also the state government has been a great partner in providing employees, state employees, with paid time off so they can receive cervical and breast cancer screenings.”

Connecticut and Massachusetts also scored greens in this category. Vermont has no state funding for this.