New Jersey is taking a giant leap forward in the war against cancer. Here's how

By: Jade Bechelli, Government Relations Director, ACS CAN

March 24, 2023

The following originally appeared in the Asbury Park Press on March 24, 2023.


In the fight against cancer, one would reasonably be discouraged by the size of our opponent. There are more than 200 known types of cancer; even more diverse are the people impacted by the disease — their unique needs and treatment plans making our fight feel all the more unwieldy. As a fierce cancer advocate and daughter to a cancer survivor, I look at the breadth of our battle and I actually feel encouraged; thanks to strides in research, we have been able to isolate the policies that are proven to reduce cancer incidence and improve survivorship. Gov. Phil Murphy and other state leaders are consistent allies in this fight, securing wins for cancer patients and refusing to be discouraged in the face of adversity, but they have an opportunity to be national leaders on this issue. 2023 could be the year New Jersey rises to such a challenge.

Earlier this month, Murphy included $5 million for the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection program in his executive budget proposal, representing a huge win for public health. NJCEED provides under- and uninsured New Jersey residents with access to breast, cervical, prostate and colorectal cancer screenings at no cost to patients. In the last year, NJCEED made it possible for 17,600 New Jersey residents to get screened for breast and cervical cancer and 2,981 for colorectal cancer. The governor’s $5 million allocation for NJCEED will make it so that fewer New Jersey residents will suffer and die from preventable disease.

New Jersey took another huge step forward in improving residents’ access to lifesaving preventative care when, at the beginning of 2023, the Legislature passed the Colorectal Cancer Screening Cost-Sharing Removal Act. Starting July 1, 2023, no New Jersey resident over the age of 45 will be charged for a colonoscopy following a positive stool-based test. This new law will make it so that cost is not a deterrent to screening.

Though efforts to eliminate barriers to cancer screenings are invaluable in this fight, cancer prevention in New Jersey cannot be solely defined by residents’ access to early detection services. We need to be proactive, reducing the presence of cancer-causing products in New Jersey residents’ lives. The best course for lawmakers to achieve this is through tobacco cessation — more specifically, increasing funding for tobacco prevention and cessation initiatives.

Under current state law, the annual budget dedicates 1% of the revenue generated from cigarette taxes to tobacco cessation initiatives, which amounts to just $4.757 million — despite the CDC’s recommendation that New Jersey spend $103.3 million annually on such initiatives. Tobacco prevention and cessation efforts in New Jersey continue to do more with less, but there is more work that needs to be done. If New Jersey were to increase its investment in tobacco prevention to 3% of the cigarette tax revenue, the new funds could be used to expand prevention and cessation programs and resources. This would represent a progressive approach to state spending and not result in any increase in tax or cost for residents.

Nearly 56,150 New Jersey residents will be diagnosed with cancer in 2023, and it is estimated that more than 15,000 will lose their battle with the disease. The governor has demonstrated how he plans to lower these numbers. Now, I urge New Jersey’s Legislature to do the same and lead on this issue. We can either let these incidence and mortality rates immobilize us or we can work to make New Jersey a champion in cancer policy. I choose to act; I hope New Jersey’s state leaders will join me.


Jade Bechelli is director of New Jersey Government Relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.