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Report: States can do more to fight cancer

Minnesota and Wisconsin both fall short in adapting measures that would aid in the fight against cancer, an advocacy group contends in a report released today.

But that's not to say the situation is entirely bleak.

"We do get a 'green' rating on our tobacco tax," said Sara Sahli, government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. "We're really proud of our smoke-free air law that we passed 10 years ago this past July."

By "green" Sahli was referring to the nine benchmarks her organization established in today's "How Do You Measure Up?" report. "Green" indicates the state has met the Cancer Action Network's criteria; "yellow" that it is making progress and "red" that it is falling short.

Both Minnesota and Wisconsin get "green" marks with a per-pack cigarette tax above the national average of $1.75. In Wisconsin, it's $2.52, and in Minnesota it's $3.04.

But Wisconsin is "green" in only three of the nine markers, and Minnesota in only five. Those are middle-of-the-road numbers: Thirty states plus the District of Columbia fall within that range of three to five, according to the report.

But Massachusetts achieved "green" ratings in six categories and California leads the way with seven, the report said.

Minnesota was "red" in only one category: state appropriations for breast and cervical cancer screening program. Even that doesn't seem quite so bad in context.

Minnesota's spending in this area isn't as much as the Cancer Action Network would like, said

Ellie Beaver, Sahli's counterpart in Minnesota. But the Minnesota Department of Health's screening program, called Sage, does a good job of reaching women at all income levels, she said. There's at least one clinic covered by the Sage program in 86 of the state's 87 counties, and numerous clinics in larger counties. In Duluth alone, eight clinics have Sage programs.

A more pressing concern, Beaver said, is funding to replace the services offered by ClearWay Minnesota when it ceases to exist by the end of 2022. The agency, designed to help reduce smoking and cut secondhand smoke, was created as part of the 1998 tobacco settlement as a life-limited organization.

Picking up the gap likely would cost between $15 million and $20 million a year, Beaver said. But she noted that the state receives about $170 million a year from the tobacco settlement and invests less than 1 percent of that in preventing tobacco use and helping people quit.

"Looking at ways of capturing some of those settlement dollars that are still coming into Minnesota I think is a pretty valuable option as a way to pay for tobacco prevention and cessation," she said.

In Wisconsin, two pieces of legislation that would have moved the state to "green" in two categories had bipartisan support but failed to reach the finish line during the 2018 session, Sahli said.

One would have established a palliative statewide expert advisory council. Such councils have been established in 23 states (including Minnesota) to study the issue and make recommendations about how to improve palliative care, Sahli said.

But the "fiscal note" attached to a bill that would have established an advisory council in Wisconsin placed the pricetag around $100,000, she said, and the issue stalled in the Legislature. Sahli believes that estimate can be adjusted downward.

The other bill would have required that flavored tobacco products be placed behind the counter at retailers rather than on the shelves, Sahli said. A bill to do that had 45 co-sponsors from both parties, the support of 20 health groups and the blessings of the state's grocers' association and petroleum marketers' association, but got stuck in the Assembly after passing in the Senate.

The Cancer Action Network and its allies will try again next year, Sahli said, but she's perplexed that it's not already in the books.

"It's a head-scratcher to me in this day and age that we are still having to explain why it's important to do everything we can to keep tobacco out of the hands of our youth," she said.

To learn more

See the "How do you measure up?" report at