R.I. ACS CAN: State falls far short of cancer prevention goals

THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY'S Cancer Action Network in Rhode Island reports the state is only spending a fraction of recommended funding on cancer prevention. / COURTESY AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY'S CANCER ACTION NETWORK IN RHODE ISLAND

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island increased its Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program spending slightly this year by $12,000 to $387,000, continuing a moral cancer-prevention dilemma, said Robert Dulski, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network in Rhode Island.

The sum spent on tobacco prevention and cessation is only 3 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended $12.8 million for state spending on the initiative. Dulski pointed out the state received $195 million this year as a result of the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, according, in part, to the number of cigarette sales statewide, combined with taxes from tobacco sales, providing a disincentive for lawmakers to use the money to curb tobacco use.

The state spent just one-fifth of 1 percent of the money on preventing tobacco use, Dulski said, earning it a red mark in Cancer Action Network’s “How Do You Measure Up?” report on the state’s status on issues critical to reducing the incidence of cancer and deaths from the disease.

A green mark on the report shows 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.

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For every dollar states spend on tobacco prevention, tobacco companies spend an average of $12.40 on tobacco marketing, Dulski said. In Rhode Island, he said tobacco companies spend $70 per dollar of prevention.

“The tobacco companies are targeting Rhode Island specifically because we’re not using our money wisely,” Dulski said, adding tobacco use annually costs the state $640 million in medical costs.

In the event the General Assembly restores tobacco prevention funding to its $3.1 million spending high point in the 2000s, Dulski said the people running the program have a good plan to use it to prevent tobacco use.

“It would be spent wisely,” he said.

The state also earned a red mark on its funding for breast and cervical cancer screening. Just 5 percent, or $70,836, of the $1.5 million provided by the CDC for such screening is spent by Rhode Island, he said. Cancer Action Network’s standard is for a state to spend 33 percent of the award on prevention, Dulski said.

The state earned a positive yellow mark for efforts to ensure cancer patients receive appropriate pain medications through Medicaid, such as nicotine gum, inhalers, lozenges, nasal spray and a patch, despite tighter controls on opioid prescriptions, and another yellow mark for providing at least one type of counseling, a tobacco-quit hotline and at least one Food and Drug Administration-approved tobacco cessation medication to enrollees.

Rhode Island earned green marks for:

  • Broadening Medicaid eligibility, covering people under 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Passed American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network model legislation establishing a Palliative Statewide Expert Advisory Council.
  • Taxing cigarettes at $4.25 per pack, above the national average of $1.75 per pack.
  • Passing state legislation making non-hospitality workplaces, restaurants and bars 100 percent smoke-free.
  • Passing a state ban prohibiting tanning for minors with no exemptions.

“Last month, Gov. [Gina M.] Raimondo signed into law legislation that prevents minors under 18 from using indoor tanning devices – this helped boost Rhode Island to a well-deserved top ranking in regard to indoor tanning and protecting our youth from skin cancer,” said Dulski. “However, work remains to be done – we continue to woefully underfund the state’s tobacco control program, sustaining it at less than 3 percent of the Centers for Disease Control recommended amounts. This remains a huge opportunity to move Rhode Island forward in 2019.”

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com

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