New Report Finds Nearly Half of States Falling Short on Policies to Prevent and Fight Cancer

July 21, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- July 21, 2009 -- Nearly half of all states are falling short on legislative solutions to prevent and fight cancer, according to new report released today by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). However, despite a tough year of state legislative sessions, with many states embattled in budget crises, state lawmakers were still able to make positive progress against the disease will kill more than 562,000 people in the United States this year.

The new report, How Do You Measure Up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality, released today at the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting in Philadelphia, PA, found that 20 states reached benchmarks on none or only one of the legislative priority areas measured by ACS CAN, the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society.

“State legislatures have a critical role to play in the fight against cancer,” said Daniel E. Smith, president, ACS CAN. “While Congress is debating health care reform, states must continue to enact policies that put prevention at the forefront of the health care system; make health coverage affordable and accessible to all Americans; and ensure that people who have life-threatening diseases such as cancer are covered when they need to be with policies that are simple to understand and easy to navigate.”

How Do You Measure Up? measures state policies (resulting from legislative action or ballot initiatives) on six priority areas: breast and cervical cancer early detection program funding; access to care for the uninsured; colorectal screening coverage laws; smoke-free laws; pain management; and tobacco taxes.  Failure to address these issues effectively places barriers in front of those who seek proper diagnosis, treatment and care when facing cancer.

A color-coded system is used to identify how well a state is doing.  Green represents the benchmark position, showing that a state has adopted well-balanced policies and good practices; yellow indicates moderate movement toward the benchmark and red shows where states are falling short. 

No state reached a benchmark in all six issues and only two states—Maryland and Massachusetts—reached benchmarks in five of the six priority legislative areas in the state-level fight against cancer. Eight states Alabama, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming did not meet the benchmark on any of the six issues, and another 12 received high marks on only one issue.

In addition to the six focus areas on which states were rated, the report examines how states are measuring up on issues such as the affordability of health coverage on the individual market or through Medicaid for low-income populations. It also details efforts to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs as well as state investments in nutrition and physical activity promotion.

“State legislators can play an important role in the war against cancer by passing legislation that can helps reduce the toll of the disease and saves lives,” said Robert E. Youle, volunteer chair of the ACS CAN board of directors. “In most cases, the most effective solutions will save a state millions of dollars in health care costs and increased worker productivity. In many cases, it costs a state little or nothing to do the right thing.”

Between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009, state legislatures across the country made advances in the fight against cancer. In the past year, 12 states and the District of Columbia have passed or implemented tobacco tax increases, bringing to 46 the total number of states with tobacco tax increases since 2002 and increasing the current national average to $1.28 (up from $1.14 in 2008).

Several southern tobacco-growing states increased their tobacco taxes, including Florida, which raised taxes by $1.00 the state’s first increase since 1990. Rhode Island was the first state to pass a tobacco tax above $3.00 and currently has the highest cigarette tax at $3.46 per pack. Research has consistently shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.

Six states implemented comprehensive smoke-free laws in the past year that protect workers and patrons from the hazards of secondhand smoke. North Carolina was the first tobacco-growing state in the nation to pass a 100 percent smoke-free restaurant and bar law. Currently, more than 70 percent of the U.S. population is covered by smoke-free laws that cover 100 percent of workplaces and/or restaurants and/or bars.

In addition, many state legislatures fought hard to preserve coverage for lifesaving cancer screenings and treatments and to stave off attempts to cut state funds that support these programs, such as the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Nebraska successfully increased funding for Every Woman Matters, the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program a major victory considering the current economic climate in the state.

Other findings detailed in the report:

  • Only nine states have reached benchmarks in providing screenings for breast and cervical cancer early detection.
  • Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws that ensure private insurance coverage for the full range of colon cancer screenings tests.
  • Only 16 states met the benchmark on cancer pain management policy and practice.
  • More than half (26) of states failed to meet the benchmark on uninsured rates with rates of 16 percent (the national average) or higher.
  • 2009 is the third consecutive year that Tennessee and South Carolina have not received a single “green” score. After two consecutive years of no “green” scores, Florida received two in 2009. 

In 2009, more than 1.4 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer and more than 562,000 people will die from the disease. Advances in the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer have resulted in an almost 14 percent decrease in U.S. death rates from all cancers combined from 1991 to 2004 resulting in 650,000 lives saved.

For state-by-state details or a copy of the complete report, please visit

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

Nicole Bender
Phone: (202) 553-7038
Email: [email protected]

More Press Releases AboutSmoke-free, Tobacco Control