Tahlequah Daily Press

August 22, 2013

State gets low marks in new cancer report

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — srowley@tahlequahdailypress.com

On the issues of preventing and treating cancer, a recent report by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network claims the state of Oklahoma could be doing more.

The report, “How Do You Measure Up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality,” was critical of most states. It found 38 states had attained benchmarks in less than 40 percent of priorities identified by ACS CAN.

The ACS CAN used a color code to rate the performance of state legislatures in 10 policy areas defined as “key.” Green was given to states which have adopted “evidence-based policies and best practices.” Yellow indicates “moderate movement toward the benchmark,” and red shows where states “are falling short.”

The ACS rated Oklahoma red in smoke-free law, tobacco taxes and price increases, indoor tanning bed restrictions for minors, physical education time requirements, access to palliative care, and Medicaid expansion. Oklahoma was given a yellow rating for tobacco tax increase rates, tobacco prevention and cessation funding, breast and cervical cancer early detection funding, and effective pain policy.

While Oklahoma’s Legislature may not get good grades from the ACS, Carol Choate, director of the Communities of Excellence Cherokee County Tobacco Control Program, said local officials can take steps to combat the causes of cancer.

“I think we have done quite well in Cherokee County,” Choate said. “Our local elected officials have been proactive, listened to what we have to say and moved forward. I think the county is healthier as a result.”

State’s cancer rates are comparatively high

According to cancer.gov, the incidence of cancer among Oklahoma residents was 470.2 per 100,000 during 2006-’10. The national incidence rate was 453.7 per 100,000. Cherokee County’s cancer incidence rate of 446.9 was below the national average and ranked 50th among Oklahoma’s 77 counties.

“We have 12 SWAT [Students Working Against Tobacco] teams in the county,” Choate said.

“They work very hard to advocate tobacco controls and reveal some of the tactics they use to get young people to smoke. For us, the trick is to convince people not to smoke until age 26. Very few pick up the habit afterward.”

While commending local efforts to reduce the incidence of cancer, Choate, also a trustee for the Tahlequah Hospital Authority, noted some limitation to her perspective.

“I deal mostly with tobacco,” she said.

“Where tobacco is concerned, we have gotten both municipalities in Cherokee County - Tahlequah and Hulbert - to declare themselves smoke-free and all schools are 24-7 tobacco free.”

Told of Oklahoma’s middle to low ratings by the ACS CAN - including on tobacco issues - in its report, Choate indicated she isn’t in complete agreement.

“We are one of only two states with exemptions in our indoor air laws,” she said. “I’m very excited the governor [Mary Fallin] has taken a stand and wants to see those exemptions lifted. The governor also recently signed a bill which allowed local government to control smoking in public parks and facilities. I might also mention that Oklahoma has one of the strongest tobacco lobbies - it is very well organized.”

The ACS CAN report stated only 12 states and the District of Columbia met between four and six of the policy benchmarks. None met more than six.

The ACS predicts that 20,000 Oklahomans will be diagnosed with cancer during 2013, and another 8,000 will die of the disease

 Predicted national figures are 1.6 million and 580,000, respectively.

Learn more

ACS CAN is a nonprofit nonpartisan advocacy group affiliated with the American Cancer Society. Read the report at www.acscan.org.