David Holmquist, government relations director for the agency’s Cancer Action Network, says of the ten main criteria, Nebraska got failing “red” grades in five categories, and “yellow” rankings in three others.
“Nebraska is frankly falling behind,” Holmquist says. “We only have two of our laws that fall under the ‘green’ category. We’re happy about those two but there are a couple of others that we’ve worked on for several years and we just can’t make much headway with.”
Those failing areas include the need for Nebraska to devote more money to tobacco prevention and cessation, as well as to barring young people from using tanning beds. He says exposure to ultraviolet radiation, through sunlight and indoor tanning devices, is one of the most avoidable risk factors for skin cancer.
Holmquist says, “Our ‘green’ scores are in smoke-free environment, so, clean indoor air, and also in the provision of oral chemotherapy as a match for the infused chemotherapy. So, if an oral chemotherapy product is available, a patient can get that at no additional cost.”
Among the ‘red’ categories where the report says Nebraska is failing, the state needs to boost funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings and better access to health care through Medicaid.
“The biggest key area is to increase the cigarette tax,” Holmquist says. “We have tried for several years to increase the tax. We’re currently at 64-cents per pack and we are $1.01 below the national average. We are in 40th place. That has been a tough issue and we can’t seem to get the legislature to put it onto the floor for debate.”
Missouri’s cigarette tax is even lower than Nebraska’s at only 17-cents a pack, but Nebraska is well below states like New York, where the tax per pack is over $4.
It’s estimated nearly 3,400 Nebraskans will die from cancer this year while 8,700 new cases will be diagnosed. With the knowledge we have today, Holmquist says we could prevent roughly half of cancer deaths in the United States.
This is the 14th year for the “How Do You Measure Up?” report.