Nearly a hundred cancer patients, survivors and caregivers from across the state rode the rails on a whistle stop-style campaign train ride to the state Capitol in Santa Fe today to meet with lawmakers and gain support for cancer-fighting policies. This year, 60 students from Eldorado High School in Albuquerque joined the cancer advocates making tracks to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) Cancer Awareness Day at the Capitol. The government students learned from the ACS CAN volunteers how to advocate for a good cause—cancer policy—and in particular legislation aimed at reducing cancer risks facing youth.
American Cancer Society (Society) statistics show cancer has risen to become the #1 killer in New Mexico.
Knowing nearly 30 percent of all cancers are linked tobacco use, the Society’s advocacy affiliate, ACS CAN, urged lawmakers at its annual Cancer Awareness Day at the Capitol today to support Senate Bill 231 and House Bill 282.
Sponsored by Senator Howie Morales (D-Silver City) and Representative Liz Thomson (D-Albuquerque), the legislation would add a buck-and-a-half-per-pack tax to cigarettes and an equivalent tax to other tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, which are surging in popularity among young people.
The $1.50 increase is projected to lower youth smoking rates by 17 percent and keep an estimated 11,700 kids from starting to smoke. Additionally, it’s projected that more than 14,400 current adult smokers would quit smoking. The tobacco tax increase would also prevent 7,300 premature deaths due to smoking and save the state nearly $534 million in long-term health care costs due to smoking.
“An increase in the tobacco tax is long overdue, especially since New Mexico’s current tax creates a loophole for the growing number of ways tobacco is being marketed to young people to get them hooked,” said New Mexican Kathleen McVicker, a longtime volunteer for ACS CAN and three-time cancer survivor. “As a cancer survivor, I let my lawmakers know that raising the tobacco tax will save lives and money, and it should be a key issue this legislative session.”
ACS CAN has joined other leading health organizations in New Mexico including the American Lung Association, American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to support SB 231 and HB 282.
Cigarette price increases of this magnitude are needed to significantly impact smoking rates and effectively counteract the flood of “buy-one, get-one free” promotions, coupons, and other discounts that the tobacco industry typically issues after tobacco tax increases in order to try to minimize its loss of customers.
Other legislation that ACS CAN cancer volunteers and the high school students advocated for today included legislation introduced by Representative G. Andrés Romero that could dramatically shift dire skin cancer statistics. House Bill 212 would prohibit anyone under 18 from using indoor tanning devices and make it unlawful for an owner or employee of a tanning facility to allow a minor to tan. Like tobacco, indoor tanning is considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
“Skin cancer rates have soared during the past 30 years, making skin cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States today. Worse yet, one in nine high school girls use tanning devices despite the fact that indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent,” said ACS CAN New Mexico Government Relations Director Sandra Adondakis.
A bill to improve patient quality of life throughout the cancer journey was introduced by Senator Craig Brandt (R-Rio Rancho). Senate Bill 173 highlights the critical need for palliative care programs. Palliative care is a growing field of specialized medical care that improves the quality of life of patients and their families by focusing on relief from pain, stress and other symptoms during their treatment and throughout survivorship.
“Studies show palliative care benefits the family caregivers as well as the patient,” said Rachelle Roanhorse, an ACS CAN volunteer who provided care to a family member with cancer. “Family caregivers often experience high stress and declines in their own mental and physical health. Palliative care for the patients reduces stress for the caregivers, making it easier for them to care for their loved ones.”
ACS CAN, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. ACS CAN works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer with the training and tools they need to make their voices heard. For more information, visit www.fightcancer.org.