Virginia Falling Short on Cancer-Fighting Public Policies

Virginia Lawmakers Have Opportunities to Save Lives and Money by Improving Access to Affordable Health Coverage and Implementing Effective Tobacco Control and Quality of Life Measures

August 1, 2019

Virginia is falling short when it comes to implementing policies and passing legislation to prevent and reduce suffering and death from cancer. According to the latest edition of How Do You Measure Up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality, Virginia measured up to policy recommendations in just two of the eight evaluated issue areas. The report was released today by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).


The 17th edition of the report highlights we must do more to reduce suffering and death from cancer.


“This year alone in Virginia, 45,440 people will be diagnosed with cancer,” said John Hoctor, managing director for ACS CAN. “We owe it to them—and to everyone at risk of developing this disease—to do everything in our power to prevent cancer and improve access to screenings and treatment. This report provides lawmakers a legislative path forward to improve cancer prevention efforts, curb tobacco use, prioritize the quality of life for patients and their families and increase access to critical health coverage.”


How Do You Measure Up? rates states in eight specific areas of public policy that can help fight cancer: increased access to care through Medicaid, access to palliative care, balanced pain control policies, cigarette tax levels, smoke-free laws, funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, cessation coverage under Medicaid and restricting indoor tanning devices for people under 18.


This year’s report includes a special section examining efforts to stem youth tobacco product use by raising the legal age of sale for tobacco to 21. E-cigarettes have driven a dramatic 36% rise in youth tobacco product use over the last year—and in statehouses across the country, policymakers have prioritized efforts to keep tobacco products out of the hands of our kids, introducing 88 bills that raised the age of sale for tobacco products.  But state lawmakers’ good-faith efforts have been co-opted by the tobacco industry, who want to use these laws to advance policies that will interfere with effective tobacco control and protect their profits. In fact, 51 out of the 88 age of sale bills introduced in 2019 included provisions that advance tobacco industry interests. The special section draws attention to Big Tobacco’s dangerous agenda—including preempting local governments’ ability to pass strong tobacco control laws—and outlines the principles that make tobacco 21 policies effective.


This year, Virginia lawmakers passed a tobacco 21 law that could have protected our kids from a lifelong addiction. But tobacco industry lobbyists and allies chose not to address three critical areas of concern needed for the measure to have the greatest impact. The current law fails to focus on the sale, instead of the purchase, of tobacco and e-cigarettes, does not require licensing for all tobacco retailers, and turns a blind eye to the need to fund prevention and cessation programs to help reduce youth tobacco use. Our lawmakers next session should work to close these loopholes that prevent this law from effectively protecting our kids.


Passing and implementing the policy recommendations in the report would not only save lives in Virginia, but also save millions in long-term health care costs and in some cases would even generate additional, much-needed revenue.


A color-coded system classifies how well a state is doing in each issue. Green shows that 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. 


How Virginia Measures Up:


Increased Access to Medicaid                                                   green

Access to Palliative Care                                                            yellow

Pain Policy                                                                                    green

Cigarette Tax Rates                                                                     red

Smoke-free Laws                                                                         red

Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program Funding             red                                          

Medicaid Coverage of Tobacco Cessation Services                 red

Indoor Tanning                                                                              red


“By passing laws that prevent cancer and help patients get the care they need, our lawmakers can save lives and money in Virginia,” said Hoctor. “We stand ready to work with our leaders to build a healthier and brighter future for Virginians and eliminate death and suffering from cancer.”


To view the complete report and details on Virginia’s ratings, visit


The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) is making cancer a top priority for public officials and candidates at the federal, state and local levels. ACS CAN empowers advocates across the country to make their voices heard and influence evidence-based public policy change as well as legislative and regulatory solutions that will reduce the cancer burden. As the American Cancer Society’s nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate, ACS CAN is critical to the fight for a world without cancer. For more information, visit

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