Cancer Action Network publishes state report card

NJ policies succeed in cigarette taxing and smoke-free laws, but lag behind in prevention.

This year alone nearly 1.7 million Americans will hear the words “you have cancer.” More than 600,000 will die from the disease. That’s why the Cancer Action Network, the advocacy wing of the American Cancer Society, is spreading the word about its latest report, which grades states in areas of public policy that can help fight cancer.

“So New Jersey I think falls pretty firmly in the middle of the pack,” said Brian Shott, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network New Jersey Chapter government relations director.

Shott says New Jersey is making progress in the same number of areas it’s performing poorly.

“We’ve gotten better in some areas and we are also continuing to lag behind in some areas. And that’s the area of tobacco prevention and cessation,” he elaborated.

The report measures each of nine categories using colors. The state adopted best practices and evidence-based policies. New Jersey’s doing well in four of those areas: cigarette tax rates, smoke-free laws, access to Medicaid and funding for early detection. Palliative care access ranks moderately in relation to the benchmark. And. falling short are policies like Medicaid coverage for cessation services, indoor tanning, pain policy and one of the most critical areas: funding for tobacco prevention and cessation.

“It’s the issue of making sure that we’re providing funding for resources around the state in order to quit their tobacco use or to never start — that’s the area where we’re falling behind,” said Shott.

Smoking is still the country’s leading cause of preventable death and disease. New Jersey imposes an excise tax of $2.70 per pack of cigarettes. That’s higher than the national average of $1.69. But advocates say that money isn’t being used effectively.

“We’re at black on the map because we do still fall below 1 percent of what the CDC recommends the state should be spending with regard to tobacco prevention cessation,” said Shott.

“A lot of education needs to be done. A continuation of policy initiatives as well,” said NJ GASP Executive Director Karen Blumenfeld.

But, lawmakers recently passed legislation dedicating 1 percent of tobacco tax revenues for these programs, which should come in around $7 million, according to Office of Legislative Services, and lift the state out of the red. That’s not all.

“This year we’re seeing a lot of progress in the sense that the governor signed off on the tobacco age at 21, which was fantastic and clearly that type of a policy will save lives by limiting access to young people,” added Blumenfeld.

Several questions remain: When will that $7 million be appropriated? How will the Department of Health dole it out? Which programs will benefit most?