Florida is not doing enough to prevent cancer or care for those who get it, according to a new report from the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society.
The Cancer Action Network’s annual report says the state was not proficient in any of the group’s eight benchmarks, placing Florida among the worst in the nation at implementing policies and laws to prevent and treat cancer.
“One hundred and thirty-one thousand people this year in Florida are going to be diagnosed with cancer,” said Matt Jordan, spokesman for the Cancer Action Network. “We need to do everything we can in the state to prevent more people from being diagnosed and to treat and cure the ones that are being diagnosed.”
The state received some of its lowest marks for not expanding access to Medicaid, Jordan said.
Allowing more people to enroll in Medicaid would provide more access to early cancer screenings, prevention and treatment.
“If you do get cancer, you want to make sure that you can get the treatment as quickly as possible,” Jordan said. “Fighting your cancer in stage one, you have such a better chance of survival and just overall quality of life and happiness than you do in stage three or four.”
The state also falls behind in funding for cancer research, Jordan said. Florida is the third most populous state but it’s not in the top 10 in terms of research funding and clinical trials.
“Research and development is so important for getting new treatments and higher survival rates,” he said.
Along with access to Medicaid, the report also measured the state on 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.
During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers proposed a bill that would increase the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. But the American Cancer Society opposed it because the bill contained an exemption for cigars and would not apply to military personnel. The bill also penalized young people instead of the stores that sold them the tobacco, Jordan said.
In Florida and other states, the tobacco industry co-opted efforts to raise the age of sale for tobacco products to advance their own interests, said Heather Youmans, director of government relations for the Cancer Action Network.
Her group “worked hard to defeat a Tobacco 21 bill that was influenced by the tobacco industry and would have undermined the progress Florida has made in tobacco control, particularly with youth,” she said.
One bright spot in Florida was a law passed by legislators to include vaping in the Indoor Air Act, Jordan said. The regulation prevents people from using e-cigarettes anywhere tobacco products are prohibited.
“We’re seeing 25 percent of high-schoolers vaping now,” Jordan said. “I think a lot of legislators in Florida are really starting to understand how harmful these products are and I think we’re going to see some more legislation next year with these products.”