Congress Shouldn’t Sacrifice Disease Prevention Efforts to Pay for 21st Century Cures Act

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 30, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The 21st Century Cures Act now before Congress is intended to accelerate the development of new treatments and cures for cancer and other dreaded diseases. However, it is disappointing and shortsighted that this legislation would be funded partly by cutting the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which is critical to preventing many of these same diseases from occurring in the first place. Congress should refrain from utilizing the Prevention and Public Health Fund to pay for this legislation.

As currently proposed, this legislation would reduce funding for the Prevention and Public Health Fund by 30 percent, or $3.5 billion, over the next seven years (fiscal years 2018-2024). The result would be to reduce funding for disease prevention initiatives that save lives and health care dollars, including programs to reduce tobacco use, the nation’s No. 1 cause of preventable death.

The proposed cuts to the prevention fund would take away critical resources that could be used for programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. The CDC’s Tips from Former Smokers media campaign is funded through the prevention fund and has been highly cost-effective at helping smokers quit. Since its launch in 2012, the Tips campaign has helped more than 400,000 smokers to quit for good and saved at least 50,000 lives, according to the CDC. At a cost of less than $400 for each year of life saved, it is considered a “best buy” in public health. The Tips campaign is a prime example of how smart investments in prevention can reduce disease and save lives.

To win the fight against cancer, our nation must increase rather than cut back its investment in proven programs to prevent and reduce tobacco use, including the Tips campaign. As the CDC reported earlier this month, smoking causes at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States, while declines in smoking have played a huge role in reducing cancer deaths in recent decades. Since 1990, when cancer death rates peaked among males, about 1.3 million tobacco-related cancer deaths have been prevented, the CDC reported. About 60 percent of the decrease in cancer death rates among men and 40 percent of the decrease among women are due to reductions in tobacco-related cancers.

But the battle against tobacco-related cancer is far from won. Of the 36.5 million Americans who still smoke, about half will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease, including six million from cancer, unless we do more to help them quit.

Cutting the prevention fund is also bad fiscal policy. The chronic diseases and unhealthy behaviors the prevention fund is intended to address impose tremendous costs on our health care system and government budgets. Tobacco use alone costs about $170 billion a year in health care expenses, more than 60 percent of it paid by taxpayers through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

To improve health, save lives and reduce health care spending in the United States, we need a strong national commitment to preventing costly diseases in addition to improving early detection and treatment.