Ohio and W. Va. still fall short on cancer-fighting public policies

WHEELING — Despite making recent strides, Ohio and West Virginia still fall short on cancer-fighting public policies, according to a new report.

The American Cancer Society last week issued the 2019 edition of “How Do You Measure Up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality.”

The annual report rates states in eight specific areas of public policy that can help fight cancer: Increased access to care through Medicaid, access to palliative care, balanced pain control policies, cigarette tax levels, smoke-free laws, funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, cessation coverage under Medicaid and restricting indoor tanning devices for people under 18.

A color-coded system classifies how well a state is doing on 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.

Ohio received four green markers for doing well in specific categories, while West Virginia got three green markers. The Buckeye State earned two yellow markers and West Virginia received three yellow markers for making some progress in specified areas. Both states had two red markers for falling short.

“This is the first time Ohio has had four green markers,” said Julie Turner, a representative of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network. This is the 17th year the reports have been issued.

Regarding how Ohio and West Virginia compare to other states, she said, “There are only a handful of states that are reaching the six green markers … There is no state that has all (eight) green markers.”

Overall, in Ohio, she said, “There is more work to be done, and it is a great opportunity for the advocates in Ohio to pour their efforts into making a difference in the fight against cancer.”

“West Virginia’s overall rankings mirror Ohio,” said Ryann Moore, grassroots manager for the Cancer Action Network.

The Mountain State has one of the highest rates of tobacco-related cancer incidents and mortalities in the country, according to the cancer society.

“This report shows that we must do more to reduce suffering and death from cancer. But we have the power to make a difference for West Virginians immediately by implementing proven cancer-fighting policies,” Moore said.

She added, “This year alone in West Virginia, 12,440 people will be diagnosed with cancer and 32.6 percent of cancer deaths in West Virginia are attributed to smoking. We owe it to them and everyone at risk of developing the disease, to do what we know works to prevent cancer and improve access to screenings and treatment.”

The report finds West Virginia is doing well in providing increased access to Medicaid, offering access to palliative care and having indoor tanning device restrictions barring use by anyone under age 18. The state is making some progress on its pain policy, cigarette tax and Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation efforts.

However, West Virginia is deemed to be falling short on smoke-free laws and tobacco prevention funding.

The state has a high rate of smoking, yet it “is not putting a lot of money in tobacco cession and prevention. That’s a big concern for West Virginia,” Moore said.

West Virginia’s cigarette tax is $1.20 a pack, compared to the national average of $1.81. Moore suggested adding $1 to the tax as an incentive for people to quit smoking.

Discussing another smoking-related issue, she said, “West Virginia doesn’t have a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law. Some counties have comprehensive laws, but not to have the whole state keeps us ‘red,’ and that’s a concern for the health of West Virginia.”

In terms of pain policy, she said, “We want cancer patients to go through their treatment with the least amount of pain.”

Meanwhile, Ohio lawmakers are doing well in providing increased access to Medicaid, offering access to palliative care, enacting smoke-free laws and having Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation, according to the report.

Ohio’s additional green marker this year results from improved access to palliative care. The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life for both the patient and family.

Palliative care provides “an extra layer of support to people with chronic diseases,” Turner said. That support can include proper nutrition and diet, addressing pain issues and offering therapies that were not always available to patients.

On another bright note, she said, “Ohio has one of the best smoke-free laws in the nation. We are doing fairly well.”

However, the American Cancer Society thinks Ohio lawmakers should increase the cigarette tax rates and take more action on pain policy.

“We need regularly and significantly increased excess taxes on tobacco products,” Turner said.

Currently, Ohio’s excess tax on tobacco products is $1.60. “We’d like to see another dollar per pack excess tax,” she added.

Other issues to be addressed relate to the expense of pain medication and drug restrictions imposed in response to the opioid crisis.

“We shouldn’t sacrifice a cancer patient’s or a survivor’s life to address the opioid addiction,” she said.

The report indicates the Buckeye State is falling short in its tobacco prevention funding and indoor tanning device restrictions.

Ohio has allocated $12.5 million this year for tobacco cessation and prevention, down significantly from $35 million in funding in the mid-2000s, when the state received settlement money from lawsuits filed against “big tobacco” producers, Turner said.

“We need to get it back closer to that $35 million level. Big tobacco is outfunding us by 34-1,” she said, “That, as an advocate, is unacceptable. We’ve got to beef up a little counter-marketing.”

Saying “the e-cigarette epidemic is our pressing concern,” Turner said Ohio has a new law, taking effect in mid-October, to prohibit sale of electronic cigarettes to anyone under 21.

“That’s a first step. That’s a good thing … Enforcing it is a bigger issue,” she added.

Currently, e-cigarettes cannot be sold to anyone under 18. But, she said, “They’re not doing a super job of enforcement. They need to put more bite and teeth into enforcement and compliance by the retailers.”

Regarding indoor tanning restrictions, she said Ohio passed legislation five years ago that youth under 18 must have parental permission to use such devices. The American Cancer Society, however, would like to see a total ban, barring anyone under 18 from using a tanning bed or tanning booth.

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