Advocacy and Health Policy

The Stephenson Cancer Center (SCC) collaborates with multiple advocacy groups and is actively involved in a number of ongoing advocacy and policy initiatives to decrease cancer incidence and mortality rates in Oklahoma and nationally. Advocacy collaborations include:

Smoke Free Oklahoma
Smoking harms nearly every bodily organ and organ system in the body, and it significantly diminishes a person’s overall health. Smoking causes cancers of the lung, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as acute myeloid leukemia. Lung cancer from smoking is the number one cause of cancer death for men and women. The SCC supports these current efforts for comprehensive smoke-free laws to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke in order to improve overall health and counter perceptions that smoke-free laws negatively affect the hospitality industry.

Increasing HPV Vaccination Rates
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, with approximately one in four men and women currently infected. Persistent infection with oncogenic HPV types can lead to cervical cancer and is etiologically linked to oropharyngeal, anal, vaginal, vulvar, and penile cancers. HPV vaccination could prevent more than 90% of these cancers from developing. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adolescents in the US receive the HPV vaccine at ages 11-12 years. More information about these guidelines can be found here.

The SCC collaborates with the American Cancer Society (ACS) to provide evidence-based education about HPV and the importance of vaccination to the community. Through educating healthcare systems and providers, key partner organizations, community health educators, parents, and the public, the SCC hopes to increase routine HPV vaccination rates for preteens, eliminate gender disparity, and reduce geographic disparities in HPV vaccination.

The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET)
TSET is a key partner in supporting the SCC’s mission of improving patient outcomes and reducing the burden of cancer in Oklahoma. For more than a decade, TSET has provided the SCC with major grant funding to support cancer and tobacco research to improve the health of Oklahomans.

The SCC strongly supports TSET’s “Tobacco Stops with Me” initiative and its 2018 strategic plan to cut smoking in half over the next decade in order to save lives, prevent youth smoking rates from rising, and protect all Oklahomans from tobacco use and secondhand smoke. To achieve TSET’s goal to cut adult smoking to 10 percent in 10 years, policy efforts include:

  • Prohibiting smoking in cars with children present
  • Removing exemptions in state law that allow smoking in bars, hotels and other businesses
  • Raising the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products to 21
  • Banning all menthol and flavored tobacco
  • Strengthening enforcement against underage tobacco sales
  • Removing labor law protections for smokers

American Cancer Society – Cancer Action Network
The American Cancer Society – Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) is committed to the mission of eliminating cancer as a major health problem. The initiative is based on the premise that ending cancer is as much a matter of public policy as it is medical science and discovery. To that end, ACS CAN advocates at the local, state, and federal levels for legislation related to access to care, cancer prevention, cancer research funding, quality of life, and tobacco control. 

SCC members and staff are actively involved in ACS CAN, helping to advance the Oklahoma priorities of 1) comprehensive smoke-free laws, 2) protecting breast and cervical cancer screening, and 3) promoting colorectal cancer screening. Past ACS CAN priorities for the state have included: 1) supporting tanning bed legislation, 2) closing the diagnostic loophole for colorectal cancer screening, and 3) protecting Oklahoma TSET funding for its constitutionally mandated missions of tobacco cessation, wellness, and research. 

In 2018, the Oklahoma ACS-CAN team, which includes SCC staff, received two awards for Dedication and Exceptional Work in Cancer Advocacy at the ACS CAN National meeting in Washington, DC. 

Tanning Legislation Goes Into Effect
In 2017, the SCC advocated for Oklahoma Senate Bill 765, a measure that makes it illegal for children to use indoor tanning devices by providing letters of support and educating legislators about the negative impacts of tanning. This law, now in effect, will prevent the number of teen tanners and reduce the incidence of skin cancer diagnoses.

Local Tobacco Policy and Tobacco Regulatory Science
To address the high rate of tobacco use in Oklahoma, the SCC established the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center (OTRC) in partnership with TSET. The OTRC’s Policy Unit collects, analyzes, and disseminates research findings in order to identify and implement best practices in tobacco control policy in Oklahoma and the nation. The OTRC’s Policy Unit has produced a number of Policy Briefs and White Papers that review best practices, monitor tobacco industry trends, conduct original research, promoting public education, and foster dialogue. These are distributed to lawmakers and other elected officials.  Recent OTRC-sponsored activities include:

  • In 2016, OTRC policy investigators convened an educational forum titled “The Economics of Tobacco Taxation in Oklahoma” to inform legislators and other stakeholders about the impact of a proposed state tobacco tax increase. Forum participants included the ACS, American Lung Association of Oklahoma (ALAO), Oklahoma State Medical Association, Oklahoma Hospital Association, Oklahoma Primary Care Association, Oklahoma City-County Health Department (OCCHD), OSDH and TSET. Related materials were distributed to lawmakers across the state.
  • In 2016, the OTRC partnered with OCCHD and the ALAO to develop materials and testimonies related to smoke- and tobacco-free property policies. It convened a meeting with the leadership of the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the State Attorney General’s Office, featuring an expert in California’s technology-based cigarette tax stamp program.
  • In 2018, Oklahoma passed a $1/per pack tax on cigarettes and little cigars with the support of numerous organizations such as OTRC, ACS CAN, and TSET. This tax resulted in an 85% increase in calls from smokers who wanted to quit to TSET’s Oklahoma Helpline.
  • To address the rapidly changing landscape of tobacco use resulting from the availability of e-cigarettes and other new products, the OTRC established a new Tobacco Regulatory Science program in 2018. The mission of this new program is to conduct work that will directly inform federal and state policies related to the regulation of tobacco use.

Oklahoma Comprehensive Cancer Network
The SCC is a key partner in the Oklahoma Comprehensive Cancer Network (OCCN), which is housed in the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and partially funded by the CDC. The goals of OCCN are “decreasing the number of new cases of cancer, increasing survivorship of cancer patients once diagnosed, improving the quality of life for survivors, and informing all citizens about cancer prevention, risk detection, diagnosis, treatment and survival.” Since inception, SCC members have served on numerous OCCN committees, including the Executive Committee, Cancer Surveillance Committee, Cancer Prevention and Control Committee, Lung Cancer Workgroup, HPV Workgroup, Tobacco Workgroup, and Evaluation Core. SCC members served on the Internal Advisory Committee for the current 2017-2022 OCCN Plan. Through this involvement, the SCC has contributed to implementing comprehensive health policy recommendations to improve cancer outcomes in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Cancer Prevention and Control Plan, 2017 – 2022 can be found here. 

Contact Information

If you are interested in finding out more information, please contact the Community Outreach and Engagement Core staff through the email address below.

Community Outreach and Engagement Core
scc-outreach@ouhsc.edu

Core Staff
Stephanie Pharr, BS, CHES
Community Outreach Coordinator