Arkansas falling short on policies to prevent, fight cancer

    1:06 PM, Aug 13, 2012   |    comments
    Arkansas State Capitol, Little Rock
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    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Arkansas is falling short on its legislative work to combat cancer, according to a new report by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

    How Do You Measure up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality evaluates each state's activity on seven issues crucial to winning the fight against cancer. The report by ACS CAN, the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, finds that Arkansas measured up to benchmarks in only two of the seven issues.

    "State legislators must take action on laws and policies that help people fight cancer by emphasizing prevention, making health care affordable, curbing tobacco use and prioritizing quality of life," said Jason Brady, American Cancer Society Government Relations Director. "Missed opportunities to pass laws fighting and preventing cancer could limit state revenue and health savings, but could also limit the potential for saving countless lives from a disease that will kill 6,570 Arkansans this year."

    Now in its tenth year, How Do You Measure Up? grades seven key state policy areas nationwide: breast and cervical cancer early detection program funding; colorectal screening coverage laws; smoke-free laws; tobacco prevention program funding; tobacco taxes; state tanning bed bans for minors; and access to palliative care. A color-coded system classifies how well a state is doing. Green shows that a state has adopted well-balanced policies and good practices; yellow indicates moderate movement toward the benchmark and red shows where states are falling short.

    The report also offers a blueprint for effective legislation on matters such as tobacco cessation funding; regulating indoor tanning devices; obesity, nutrition and physical activity; and quality of life. To assist state lawmakers with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the report provides a model framework for establishing consumer-friendly state health exchanges and protecting Medicaid programs - a critical lifeline for many cancer patients.

    How Arkansas Measures Up:

    Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Funding: Green
    Colorectal Screening Coverage Laws: Green
    Smoke-free Laws: Red
    Tobacco Prevention Funding: Red
    Tobacco Taxes: Yellow
    State Tanning Bed Bans for Minors: Red
    Access to Palliative Care: Red

    "If Arkansas lawmakers want to reduce the future burden of Medicaid and improve the overall health of Arkansans in this state, legislative steps must be taken to give workers the protection of state laws that make all work places, restaurants, and bars smoke-free and we should also consider increasing the state tobacco tax," said Brady. "We must make sure the funds the state receives from the Master Settlement Agreement are used to keep kids from never starting to use tobacco products and help those who already use tobacco products quit."

    The most recent cigarette tax increase in Arkansas was passed in 2009. The 59-cent increase has exceeded revenue expectations of approximately $82 million a year. Raising the tax on tobacco products in a significant manner would discourage youth from ever starting to smoke and encourage people who do use tobacco to stop using it all together.

    "Unfortunately, in addition to tobacco-related efforts, Arkansas did not meet the benchmark for access to palliative care," Brady said. "Treating the whole person -- not only the disease but also the physical and emotional consequences of treatment -- is the key to both extending life and enhancing quality of life."

    "As advocates, we have a duty to inform the public about ways to prevent and treat cancer, but our voice is not enough if state and local policymakers don't take action to fund and secure programs and services that we know work," said Brady. "The best solutions will save lives and possibly millions of dollars in health care costs, and in many cases, it would cost Arkansas little or nothing to do the right thing."

    National Outlook

    In a year consumed by budget and legislative challenges, many state legislatures missed opportunities to enact laws and policies that could save money, generate revenue and save lives. In the past 10 years, only three states - California, Missouri and North Dakota - have not raised their cigarette tax, and 20 states and the District of Columbia still have taxes less than $1 per pack. No state comes close to matching health and economic costs attributed to smoking, which are estimated at $10.47 per pack.

    No states passed comprehensive smoke-free legislation in the recent legislative session; however, a number of cities and counties passed laws making them 100 percent smoke-free. Currently, 23 states, Puerto Rico, the U. S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia have comprehensive smoke-free laws in place. Keeping all workplaces, restaurants and bars in a state 100 percent smoke-free is the best way to protect all residents from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

    Passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010 initiated the formation of health benefit exchanges in many states. Fourteen states already have established exchanges through legislation or executive order. These serve as the central marketplace where consumers compare and buy health insurance plans in the individual and small group markets.

    Unfortunately, many states are slashing funds to the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides low-income and uninsured women with access to life-saving mammograms and Pap tests. Decreased funding means fewer eligible women across the country have access to lifesaving screenings.

    In 2012, more than 1.6 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer and more than 577,000 people will die from the disease. In Arkansas this year, 16,120 will be diagnosed with cancer and another 6,570 will die of the disease.

    For state-by-state details or a copy of the complete report, please visit www.acscan.org.

    The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation's largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing about $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, about 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org.

    ACS CAN, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. ACS CAN works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer with the training and tools they need to make their voices heard. For more information, visit www.acscan.org.

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