How NJ can better fight cancer, from tanning to smoking cessation
New Jersey gets middling grades on this year’s version of the American Cancer Society’s annual assessment of states’ efforts to reduce and treat cancer, but it has already taken a step toward addressing its most glaring shortcoming.
Instead of letter grades, the report uses a scale like a traffic light – green is passing, yellow is cautionary and red is failing, said Marc Kaplan, media advocacy director for New Jersey for the ACS’s Cancer Action Network.
“New Jersey has four out of nine greens, so New Jersey is kind of in the middle of where the other states are,” Kaplan said.
In one area, the state was off the color scale – given a "black" for tobacco control funding, which was practically nonexistent last fiscal year and the ones prior. That will change in the next report because the new budget allocates 1 percent of cigarette tax revenues for that purpose, as is required by a law then-Gov. Chris Christie signed about a month before leaving office.
“Seven million dollars is better than what we were doing before, but it would be great if we could end up with more funding for these programs,” Kaplan said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests New Jersey should actually spend $103 million a year on its tobacco control efforts, both to help smoking kick the habit and encourage other people never to start.
“A lot of people are really dependent on these programs. You talk to a lot of smokers and they’ll just say, ‘Yeah, I really want to quit,’ but they need help. So this is a really important program,” Kaplan said.
The report credits New Jersey for its Medicaid expansion, breast and cervical cancer screenings and high cigarette tax. But it says that in addition to funding for anti-smoking programs, including an expansion of Medicaid services, the state can improve palliative care and further tighten rules limiting indoor tanning.
New Jersey has had restrictions for nearly five years now on the use of indoor tanning devices by anyone under age 17. The report suggests raising that to age 18, in order to cover more high-school seniors.
“A lot of young people, before they go to proms, before they go to any event, they go use this indoor tanning. And it really is dangerous. Melanoma is a very dangerous form of cancer,” said Kaplan.
The report cites studies that show using an indoor tanning device before age 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent.
“The rays that come out of an indoor tanning machine are more powerful than sitting on a beach in the Mediterranean at noon. These are really dangerous,” Kaplan said.