NJ Gets Mixed Marks for Initiatives, Policies for Combating Cancer

Andrew Kitchenman | August 10, 2015 | Health Care
Report chides state for being only one in nation that doesn’t spend any of its tobacco-settlement payments on anti-smoking efforts

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While New Jersey is making progress in advancing laws and policies to fight cancer, the state’s efforts still need to improve, according to a new report by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

The annual report “How Does Your State Measure Up?” points out that New Jersey is the only state that doesn’t spend any of the money it receives from the national tobacco settlement to smoking-prevention programs.

The report by the American Cancer Society’s lobbying arm also cites other areas where New Jersey can improve its anti-cancer efforts.

Among the suggestions are requiring the state’s Medicaid program to cover all forms of tobacco-cessation treatments and raise the minimum age for teenagers to use a tanning salon from 17 to 18.

The report also suggests enacting a bill promoting palliative care and making it easier for patients with chronic pain to receive prescription opioids.

New Jersey earned positive scores from the ACS CAN in other areas, including having relatively high cigarette taxes – only eight states have higher rates than New Jersey’s tax of $2.70 per pack. The state was also praised for making workplaces, restaurants, and bars smoke-free, for agreeing to the Medicaid eligibility expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act, and for its funding of early-detection screenings for breast and cervical cancer.

No state was listed in the report as “doing well” in more than six of the nine areas rated. Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont were the only states to receive good scores in six categories, while New Jersey was among 22 states with positive scores in three to five areas. The remaining 25 states had positive scores in two or fewer of the nine areas.

The Legislature and Gov. Chris Christie “must take advantage of the opportunities to pass and enact evidence-based laws and policies that are proven to save lives and money,” said Ethan Hasbrouck, New Jersey government relations director for the network, in a statement announcing the report.

He noted that 16,200 New Jerseyans will die from cancer this year, adding, “We can’t wait to take action when the stakes are that high.”

Each state was graded as either “doing well,” making “some progress,” or “falling short” in each of the nine areas.

[related]However, New Jersey was the only state to receive a worse score than “falling short” in any category, noted as simply having “no funding” for tobacco control. The issue appears to be particularly galling for the organization, prompting it to include a section titled “Missed Opportunity: New Jersey” in the national report.

While no state is funding tobacco-cessation programs at the level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, New Jersey is that only one that doesn’t spend any of the settlement money for that purpose. The CDC says the state should spend $103.3 million annually.

“Tobacco companies spend an estimated $1.86 million a year advertising their deadly products in New Jersey,” according to the report, which notes that New Jersey received $720 million last year in revenue from its tobacco tax. In addition, the report said annual smoking-related healthcare costs covered by Medicaid in the state amount to $1.17 billion.

“This is a missed opportunity for the health of citizens in New Jersey,” according to the report, which adds that a projected 143,000 children alive today in the state will ultimately die from tobacco use.

State officials have noted in the past that the federal government provides funding for programs in the state aimed at preventing young people from smoking and helping smokers quit, including a free telephone counseling service for those looking to stop smoking.

Hasbrouck added: “By investing annually in the tobacco control program we can help decrease smoking in the state, thus saving dollars and – more importantly – save lives.”

The Assembly has passed a bill, A-3911/S-2931, that could help New Jersey improve its score in next year’s report.

The measure would require hospitals and nursing homes to inform patients about palliative and hospice care, which help seriously ill patients by focusing on relieving symptoms like pain and anxiety rather than treating the underlying causes.

Hasbrouck has said that palliative care improves the quality of life for both patients and their families.

The state Senate hasn’t acted on the bill, but Hasbrouck said his organization is looking forward to seeing it pass and for Christie to sign it.