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Changing risky behavior: What is the government's role in helping people reduce their risk of cancer?

Changing risky behavior: What is the government's role in helping people reduce their risk of cancer?

ABSTRACT: Despite encouraging new treatments, cancer still kills more than 500 million Americans each year. According to the recent report by the President's Cancer Panel, the government is not doing all it should to help reduce Americans' risks of developing cancer (see Oncology NEWS International, September 2007, page 32). Cancer Care & Economics (CC&E) spoke with panel member Margaret L. Kripke, PhD, chief academic officer at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, about the policy steps needed to reduce America's cancer burden.

CC&E: What role can the government play to help Americans reduce their risk of cancer?

DR. KRIPKE: It's important to begin any discussion about reducing cancer incidence with the sobering reminder that upward of 50% of cancer deaths are the avoidable result of tobacco exposure and unhealthy diets.

As our report suggests, without a concerted effort by the public, the government, and the healthcare industry, it is unlikely that we'll be able to make substantial gains in reducing the preventable incidence of cancer. The power of policy to change unhealthy behavior is well recognized and the government has an obligation to protect the public.

CC&E: The panel recommended raising cigarette excise taxes and tougher regulations on sales and marketing. What kind of reception did that suggestion receive from the administration?

DR. KRIPKE: The White House is not required to comment on our report, so we have not received any direct feedback on those recommendations. Quite frankly, the panel urges raising the excise taxes on tobacco because a number of studies have demonstrated that it deters initiation of smoking in youth, and given the fact that more than 80% of adult smokers became addicted as teenagers, we feel that this is one way to directly impact the incidence of tobacco-related cancer.

CC&E: Did the panel address the media's role in tobacco use?

DR. KRIPKE: Yes. For one, we've recommended that the movie industry rate their movies based in part on whether they contain extensive smoking images. I think the film industry is, in fact, now beginning to address this issue. We've come to understand that media portrayals of smoking as pleasurable and glamorous are enormously powerful influences on young people's attitudes about smoking.

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