Let’s Raise the Legal Age to Smoke to 21

I just arrived in Austin, Texas, which is the state capitol of Texas. Shortly, other delegates from all across the state and I will learn how we are going to approach asking our state lawmakers to (1) continue funding a cancer research and prevention program and (2) raise the legal age for buying cigarettes to 21.

Interestingly, far more lawmakers have already signed onto the bill that will pour billions of dollars into cancer research over the next 10 years than have agreed to support raising the legal age for smoking. A couple of years ago when I was here to ask for the same change in the law, my Congressperson argued that she could not tell a person who could legally join the military that they can’t smoke.

Isn’t that weird? They can’t legally rent a hotel room or lease a car at age 18. And, they can’t buy alcohol until they are 21. Is smoking less dangerous to a person’s health than drinking alcohol?

I always kind of wondered what difference it really makes whether a kid can legally buy a package of cigarettes at age 18 or when they turn 21. For the most part, teens that are going to smoke start long before they turn 18. I smoked my first cigarette at age 16. So did most of my friends, if they hadn’t started even earlier.

It didn’t occur to me that many 18-year-olds are still in high school. As a 16 or 17-year-old who wants to smoke and needs cigarettes, it would be easy enough to just ask one of the high school seniors to buy cigarettes. Most kids are going to help out a friend, even if they themselves do not smoke, especially if it means they might make a dollar for doing it.

Once I understood that rationale, it made it much easier to make the ask to raise the legal age to 21. It has been well established that most people who start smoking do so before they are 21 years of age. In fact, 95% of smokers start before they are 21.

Wow. Sit and contemplate that for a moment.

Naturally, we’re never going to keep cigarettes out of the hands of all kids under the age of 18 or 21. But, if it is especially difficult for them to get cigarettes, maybe a few will decide it just isn’t worth the hassle.

(I don’t know about you, but I wonder how anyone, but especially kids, can even afford to smoke these days. When I started smoking, a pack of 20 cigarettes cost $0.35. By the time I quit, they were closer to $3 a pack, I think, especially if you bought them by the single pack. These days, in Texas where they are less expensive than in many states, the average price for one pack of cigarettes is $6.70. I just shake my head at that. I used to smoke at least one and a half packs a day. I sure am glad I quit when I did. I would go broke buying cigarettes in today’s world.)

But I digress. The law we’re proposing isn’t about raising the cost of cigarettes. It is about changing how easy they are to get. I can’t be sure of it, but I think I might have been one of those kids who just didn’t want to go through all the trouble it would take to ask someone else to buy my cigarettes. I think that would have been especially true if I had to find someone who was not even a classmate to do it for me.

If the law prevented anyone under the age of 21 from legally buying cigarettes back when I was a kid, I might never have started smoking. And, that would have been the biggest favor legislators and the adult public could have ever done for me. I might not have realized it when I was a rebellious teen, but I sure understand it now.

If you live in a state where it is still legal to buy cigarettes at the young age of 18, please advocate for them to raise the age to 21. There is no good reason to allow 18-year-old teens to legally purchase cigarettes. If you live in Texas, please write to your legislators and ask them to support Tobacco 21 legislation.

Listening in on what a Member of Congress Says about Cancer

Have you heard of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)? Every September, they present a Cancer Progress Report to Congress. I just spent some time on their Web site, listening to some of the 2018 survivors’ stories. This year, The Honorable Mark DeSaulnier, D-California was among those featured.

Taxpayer dollars funding research

Maybe it is because of my background in accounting, but I was struck by the way Representative DeSaulnier spoke about the “return on investment” that Americans get when taxpayer dollars are spent on National Institutes of Health (NIH) programs.

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Frustration Boils Over … One more Time

For some reason, every time one of my friends knows someone with lung cancer, they turn to me for comfort. I don’t really know why, except that they know I have “been there done that.” I’m very happy to help in any way I can. More often than not, the person with cancer doesn’t want to talk to me, but their loved ones do. I guess I give them some perspective on what it is like to live with lung cancer.

MORE…

Medical Marijuana – An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

I attended a LUNGevity Lunch and Learn meeting yesterday. During the Survivor Stories session, a man I will call Jack began telling his story. He was diagnosed with advanced small cell lung cancer a year or two ago. His oncologist told him that he would likely live for 2 to 4 months if he did no treatments and that he would likely live 6 to 8 months if he underwent treatment.

Jack’s testimony

Jack is a relatively young man, likely in his 50s, and wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel on life. While undergoing traditional treatments, he began researching the use of medical marijuana. He wanted to find a cure for his cancer more than he wanted to find a way to control his side effects, the use we hear of most frequently in relation to medical marijuana.

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If You Toss Enough Seeds, Maybe One will Land on Fertile Ground

I am dumbfounded right now. I just finished writing a blog post that is highly critical of my Representative in Congress. I now have to retract what I wrote (it was never published) and tell a slightly different story. I am delighted to have to make the change.

Here’s the story

I went to Washington, DC last week. I joined about 150 others who were at the Lung Cancer Alliance 10th Annual Summit. The purpose of our meeting was to lobby our Congressional leaders to (1) cosponsor the Women and Lung Cancer Research and Preventive Services Act of 2018 (S. 2358 / H.R. 4897) and (2) restore $6 million in funding to the Lung Cancer Research Program within the Congressional Directed Medical Research Program administered by the Department of Defense (DOD).

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Are We Wasting Time Appealing to Congress?

I write to Congress fairly often in hopes of convincing them to throw more support toward lung cancer research. But, I wonder if my time wouldn’t be better spent writing to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and/or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?

Here’s why I ask. I received a response to one of my letters from my senator, John Cornyn, that actually included some potentially valuable information. He wrote,

As you know, entities such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are charged with allocating federal research dollars toward research and initiatives that will advance prevention and successfully treat diseases and health conditions. I believe Congress plays an important role in overseeing the distribution of these monies and must ensure they are wisely spent.¹(emphasis mine)

Should we not then be concentrating some of our efforts to advocating the CDC and the NIH to allocate more of the research dollars they receive to lung cancer? I mean, I know we need to talk to Congress about budgeting the dollars for NIH or CDC, but once there, I am not sure their researchers feel a real need to fund lung cancer.

I base my theory, in part, on a statement made by the NIH to Cure Magazine in August 2017. I was angry and incredulous when I read:

According to the National Institutes of Health, lung cancer received about $250 million in recent years in research funding annually, and it claimed 25 percent of all cancer deaths. That means that about $1,700 is spent for every person who dies each year from lung cancer. That spending rate is much higher for other forms of cancer.

Leukemia receives about $240 million a year and accounts for about 4 percent of cancer deaths. That means almost $10,000 is spent for every person who dies of leukemia. For breast cancer, that number is about $13,000.

The NIH states that funding is provided to research based on its scientific merits, not the type of cancer it targets. (emphasis mine)²

Lung cancer kills more people than the next three biggest cancer killers combined: prostate, breast, and colon. The NIH surely sees breast cancer as a worthy cause to fund. Are the researchers seeking funds that target breast cancer that much better grant writers or trial designers than those seeking money for lung cancer research? I sincerely doubt it.


If you wish to make your voice heard by the NIH, contact information for the Director  is:

Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD
BG 1 RM 118A
1 Center Dr
Bethesda, MD 20814
francis.collins@nih.gov
301-496-2433

You can contact the CDC at:

Anne Schuchat, MD, Acting Director
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30329-4027

The National Cancer Institute’s contact information is:

  1. 1-800-4-CANCER (telephone answered weekdays from 9 AM until 9 PM ET)
  2. LiveHelp Online Chat, LiveHelp (M-F, 9AM – 9PM ET)
  3. Email

Mr. Cornyn further advised me that he does not sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee so has little jurisdiction over how the annual appropriations bill will be allocated.

So, I guess my next question is to you. Does your senator sit on the Appropriations Committee? Please click on the link and send your Senator a letter if he or she is on the committee.

 

 


¹Letter from John Cornyn to Donna Fernandez (donna@hopeandsurvive.com), dated 02/09/2018

²T Keenan. “The American Lung Association Seeks to End Stigma.”  Cure Magazine. August 11, 2017. https://www.curetoday.com/articles/the-american-lung-association-seeks-to-end-stigma. Accessed 3/4/2018

 

If I Don’t Do It, Who Will?

Just this morning, I heard about a 29-year old man who has been diagnosed with lung cancer who wants to raise awareness about the disease by having his state offer specialized “beat lung cancer” license tags. Stephen Huff is among a growing number of young adults who are being diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. They never smoked. They were active. They were healthy. They’re young. And, yet, they are fighting the most deadly cancer there is.

It used to be that when you thought of lung cancer, your mind’s eye saw a wrinkled old man with a half-burned, long-ash cigarette hanging out of his mouth or an elderly woman holding a burning cigarette in her tobacco-stained fingers. You hear hacking and coughing and have a generally negative attitude about the whole person/disease/addiction.

The picture of what lung cancer looks and sounds like needs to change and it needs to change NOW. In today’s world, your mind would be just as accurate if it saw a virile, 20-something with a racing bib on. Or, a 40-year-old mom cheering on her son’s soccer team. Or, your next door neighbor who never smoked and was never around cigarette smoke. Or you.

Smoking is still the number one cause of lung cancer, but every year, more and more nonsmokers are being diagnosed with lung cancer. Especially for nonsmokers, the disease is usually not diagnosed until it is stage III or IV since no one, not the patient, not the doctor, suspects lung cancer as the cause of symptoms until every other possible option has been exhausted at least once.

And, as an aside, even IF the person diagnosed with cancer is or was addicted to tobacco, do they really deserve to die? In today’s world of acceptance (gays, transgenders, races, nationalities, religions, the list goes on and on), we do not, DO NOT, accept smokers. Whether conscious or not, we as a society are perfectly willing for those evil smokers to fight and die from lung cancer because somehow they deserve what they got. Individuals, companies, and government agencies all withhold their money from lung cancer research because, however wrong, they believe it is a cause that does not deserve support.

Stepping back off of that soapbox, I’ll climb onto another …

Mr. Huff, the young man recently diagnosed with stage IV nonsmall cell lung cancer, is asking his state legislators to offer lung cancer awareness license plates. The plates will cost taxpayers an additional $55. Half of those funds would be sent to his chosen charity to help pay for more research. At this point, he doesn’t think raising money will help save his own life, but he is adamant that more funding for research will save lives in the future.

I agree that it is crucial to get more funding in the hands of researchers. When I look at the tremendous progress that has been made already, despite every possible financial obstacle being thrown in the way, my mind can’t comprehend what scientists could accomplish with adequate funding. According to LUNGevity, only six percent of federal dollars devoted to cancer research goes to lung cancer research. How does this add up? The most deadly cancer gets the least amount of funding? Boy! Some stigmas die hard, do they not?

Let’s put the disparity in funding into hard, cold facts:

During his interview, Mr. Huff was asked why he was trying to get the state to issue license tags supporting lung cancer research. His response is one I hope we all will consider,

“If I don’t do it, who will?”

 

 

21st Century Cures Act

So … I am departing from my usual type post and am going to talk about the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6) here. I had never heard of it until a month ago. A much bigger thing should have been made about it. Not only because it will impact all of us, but because both Republicans and Democrats came together to pass the bill in an act of overwhelming bipartisanship. If only we could see a lot more working together. Think what we could do for this country.

I wonder how many of you have ever heard of H.R. 6? It was passed on July 10th of this year. I didn’t hear about it until I was speaking to Senator Pete Sessions in late September. I meant to research it then, but kept forgetting. I heard its name again this week. Because I am once again putting aside my public speaking fears and speaking in Fort Worth next week, I decided it was time to learn a little something about this act.

Purpose

The purpose of the 21st Century Cures Act is “expediting research and development on debilitating diseases, and making it easier to get important treatments to the patients who need them.”  (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/21st-century-cures-act-bipartisan/398369/)

Major highlights of the Act include:

  • increasing research collaborations (imagine! working together to find cures!!)
  • promoting personalized drug treatments (think biomarkers, targeted therapies)
  • streamlining clinical trials by making it easier for pharmaceutical companies to bring drugs to market (will this help reduce the exorbitant cost of drugs? Or, as critics warn, weaken the safety standards?)
  • creating incentives for the development of treatments for uncommon but deadly diseases (this surely gets two thumbs up)
  • encouraging young scientists to stay in the research field (huge!)
  • providing more funding to National Institutes of Health (NIH) ($1.75 billion per year for the next five years) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ($110 million per year)

 

Facts

Here are some facts, according to an article in The Atlantic and a FAQ from the Energy and Commerce Committee:

  • Passed through House Energy and Commerce committee with a 51-0 vote (nearly unheard of in today’s climate, especially for a bill that is termed “substantive and substantial”)
  • Funding will come, in part, from a modest reduction of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR)
  • Bringing new drugs to the market can cost hundreds of millions of dollars (or more), meaning promising ideas are abandoned or tabled.
  • For every 5,000 to 10,000 promising treatments, only one or two end up in the marketplace
  • Finding a cure or effective treatments for the more than 5 million US citizens who suffer from Alzheimer’s could cost the federal government $15 trillion over the next 40 years; currently the disease accounts for nearly $140 billion per year in Medicare and Medicaid payments.
  • The FDA would be required to listen to patient voices/experiences when approving experimental drugs and devices
  • Patient-generated registries would be used to recruit participants in clinical trials
  • Genetic testing would determine a patient’s predisposition to respond to targeted therapies

Take the time to learn more. Then, email any comments you have about this initiative to cures@mail.house.gov (note: submissions to this email address will be made publicly available on energycommerce.house.gov/cures)