HARRISBURG (WSKG) – A study released by the American Cancer Society has given Pennsylvania mixed reviews for its work to prevent and treat cancer. The state earned particularly low marks on funding anti-tobacco programs–an issue that has lately gotten tied up in ongoing debate on how to fund the state budget.
The study ranked states’ performance in three categories: smoking, overall cancer prevention, and access to care.
Diane Phillips, a Pennsylvania-based ACS director, said the commonwealth struggled in the tobacco category in particular.
For one, many bars and casinos in the commonwealth are still exempt from smoke-free laws. Plus, Pennsylvania is only funding tobacco use prevention programs at 10 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control recommend.
Many other states are similarly below-par in that area. But Phillips said there’s a real possibility funding could sink even more in Pennsylvania.
“We are worried about the proposal that would borrow against the tobacco settlement, because our tobacco cessation and prevention programs are funded through the settlement,” she said.
That settlement is one that traces back to the 1990s, when big tobacco companies made a deal with states over the cost of healthcare stemming from smoking-related illnesses.
The money has traditionally gone toward smoking cessation and prevention programs, and while many states have begun routing the money to other needs, Pennsylvania has largely kept the funds flowing the same way for years–until now, potentially.
The borrowing Phillips refers to is a proposal currently being considered in the legislature that would help close the commonwealth’s deficit. It’s one budget component most lawmakers seem to agree on, regardless of party.
Phillips said if the current funding stream dries up and another one is not instated, tobacco programs will see cuts.
“We know that in states where funding has been cut or gone away, those rates start to go back up. So it’s wrong to think, oh we’ve got that problem solved,” she said.
She noted, Pennsylvania’s smoking rates are already higher than average.