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Fighting Cancer: PA Doing Better, But Could Do More

Smoking-related illness costs Pennsylvania $6 billion a year. (CDC/freestockphotos.biz)
Smoking-related illness costs Pennsylvania $6 billion a year. (CDC/freestockphotos.biz)
August 15, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Keystone State received praise from anti-smoking advocates for raising tobacco taxes, but a new report said legislators could do more to help fight cancer.

The latest edition of the American Cancer Society's annual report rated every state on ten areas of public policy that contribute to the fight against cancer. The Commonwealth got high marks in only four of those areas, according to Diane Phillips, the state director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

"We've still got some work to do,” Phillips said. "In particular, we would like to strengthen Pennsylvania's clean indoor air law. We've got a good start on clean indoor air, but unfortunately, the law contains some exemptions."

Those exemptions include private clubs, hotel rooms and some bars. Massachusetts and Maine received top grades in seven areas, more than any other state.

In 2016 alone, more than 83,000 Pennsylvanians will be diagnosed with cancer - for almost 28,000 it will be fatal - and the report said tobacco is the leading cause. Phillips said that treating tobacco-related illnesses is currently costing the state $6 billion a year.

“$2 billion of that is medical assistance. So, we are paying for that care through our taxes,” Phillips said. "And if we can prevent smoking, if we can get smokers to quit, those numbers will go down."

While the state has done well in funding breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income women, according to Phillips it has not done as well funding smoking prevention and cessation programs. As in many other states, the Legislature raided the Tobacco Master Settlement funds that were intended to help people quit smoking.

"Over the years that funding has eroded,” Phillips said. “And it's not near to meeting what the Centers for Disease Control recommends for state funding, so we would like to see an improvement on that."

The report said Pennsylvania also needs to improve access to palliative care, and ensure that those being treated for cancer have appropriate access to pain medication.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA