By Andrea Sears and Shaine Smith, Public News Service
For The Post Publications
HARRISBURG PA – Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable cancer in Pennsylvania, accounting for almost 28 percent of cancer deaths and more than $6.3 billion in state health-care costs annually, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society.
The society’s recently published, 15th annual overview of state-by-state progress in the battle to reduce cancer risks and deaths indicates Pennsylvania has made some headway in its efforts. It could do more, the report suggested, to promote smoke-free laws, Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation, and fund tobacco prevention programs.
Those efforts continue to be financially supported by volunteer fund-raising events like Relays For Life, and Bark for Life rallies, in Pottstown (among the world’s largest), as well as those in Boyertown, the Daniel Boone Area (Birdsboro), Phoenixville, and the Upper Perkiomen Area (East Greenville). Coming soon to that list is Bark For Life of Boyertown and the Oley Valley, scheduled for Oct. 1 (2017; Sunday) at the Oley Fairgrounds.
The annual report rates all 50 states on prevention programs, access to care, pain-control policies, and access to cancer screenings. Among its positive conclusions: Pennsylvania is one of only eight states appropriating 100 percent or more of federally awarded funds to help eligible women receive breast- and cervical-cancer screenings.
Last year’s tax increase on tobacco products should help discourage smoking, especially among young people, according to Diane Phillips, director of government relations for the society’s Cancer Action Network. But the smoke-free workplace law passed in 2008 still has loopholes, she claimed, especially for hospitality workers affected by second-hand smoke in bars and casinos.
They also “tend to be folks who may not be covered by any kind of health-care coverage, so there’s a double concern there,” Phillips added. “We simply want to see all workplaces become smoke-free in Pennsylvania.”
Another area of concern is state spending on programs to help people stop smoking, or keep them from starting. Phillips noted the state has diverted increasing amounts of money from the tobacco settlement fund to other purposes. “Over time, the percent and amount of dollars for prevention and cessation have gone down,” she said. “We would really like to see the dollars reinstated.”
Pennsylvania now spends less than 10 percent of what the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for smoking-prevention programs.
Because Pennsylvania has made what Phillips called “significant progress” in increasing access to care through the Medicaid expansion, recent efforts in Congress to drastically cut the program are “very troubling,” she said.
“For thousands of people across the Commonwealth, that’s how they’re going to get access to cancer-prevention services and treatment,” Phillips lamented. “That’s not the promise that was made when the original Affordable Care Act was passed.”
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