A national organization that promotes cancer awareness and research says a recently released state-by-state report shows Utah can improve tobacco control efforts to save lives and money.
The American Cancer Society is calling on Utah lawmakers to support policies to help prevent incidents of cancer through the annual report “How Do You Measure Up? The Progress Report on State Legislative Activity To Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality.”
Utah achieves the benchmark in just one of the nine public policy areas and has room to improve in several key areas of tobacco control, according to Brooke Carlisle, Utah government relations director for the ACS.
"We have the lowest smoking rate in the nation, which is something to be proud of, I think. So I'm always a little bit surprised when Utah doesn't do better," she said.
The state ranked well when it came to policy promote smoke-free environments. Cigarette tax rates were ranked to be average as was funding for tobacco prevention and Medicaid funding for tobacco cessation programs.
To help cover the costs of state tobacco prevention programs, Carlisle says Utah lawmakers should increase tobacco taxes. She is also pushing for legislation that would tax electronic cigarettes.
"We know that kids are using electronic cigarettes at increasingly higher rates, every single year. So, the same theory holds that if we can raise the prices of electronic cigarettes that will be a deterrent for kids to ever start using them and developing that nicotine addiction at a young age," Carlisle said.
The ACS would like Utah lawmakers to use the 2019 legislative session to increase the age residents have to be before they can purchase tobacco products. They are proposing the age of 21 rather than the current age of 19.
“How Do You Measure Up?” also rates states on how well they are doing when it comes to providing access to care through Medicaid. Utah has shown some progress here. Carlisle says passage in November of a Utah initiative that supports Medicaid funding would give more Utahn’s access to important cancer screening programs.
"They are catching cancer early, they are having better outcomes," she said. "There are policy options to help people make healthy lifestyle choices."
A color-coded system classifies how well a state is doing in each issue. Green indicates 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.
The report also looks at whether a state provides a balanced approach to pain medication and if policies proven to increase patient quality of life have been passed. Utah’s ranking in these areas is yellow.