On Oct. 25, Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited Glens Falls Hospital to announce an initiative to examine cancer trends and the potential causes of cancer in four regions across the state — including Warren County — that have a higher incidence of certain cancers.

A review of data collected and reported by the New York State Department of Health starkly illustrates the governor’s concern and his call for a study.

Among all state counties, Warren County has the highest age-adjusted incidence rate for all cancers (564 per 100,000 population). The next highest incidence rate for all cancers is in neighboring Hamilton County (549 per 100,000 population). In contrast, the all cancer incidence rate for the entire state is 482 per 100,000 population.

What is happening in Warren County that places so many of its residents at such a high risk for acquiring cancer?

Cancer is caused by many factors, including behaviors (tobacco use, diet, exercise, over-exposure to the sun); the environment (exposure to different types of chemicals and radiation); and genetics. Gov. Cuomo has charged both the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation to work together to conduct the study. The Health Department will investigate demographic, socioeconomic, behavioral and occupational factors, and the Department of Environmental Conservation will inventory potential environmental threats in Warren County. The governor has asked that the study be concluded in a year’s time.

The study is an important step toward understanding the causes of cancer in Warren County and developing interventions that can help protect people from acquiring cancer. But we do not have to wait a year for the study to be completed to take action.

Warren County can immediately take one step that would protect current and future generations of young people in the county from experiencing the ravages of cancer. By raising the minimum legal sale age for all tobacco products to 21, Warren County would help restrict young people’s access to tobacco products and reduce their exposure to at least 70 chemicals that are known to cause cancer.

Warren County can join nine other counties in the state, and New York City, in protecting the health of young people. Studies show that almost all adult smokers started smoking prior to the age of 21. Research also indicates that by raising the sale age to 21, as many as 25 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 17 will not initiate tobacco use. Raising the sale age will have clear and unquestionable health benefits for Warren County.

The North Country Tobacco Use Reduction Task Force, comprised of representatives from 35 organizations from across the region, is working to increase awareness and gather support for raising the minimum legal sale age for all tobacco products to 21 in Warren, Washington, Essex, Hamilton, Clinton and Franklin counties. Visit the website HealthyADK at www.healthyadk.org to learn more about the task force.

Let’s not wait a year, let’s take action now.

Thomas Tallon is the Manager of the Population Health Improvement Program at AHI. Mr. Tallon works with organizations and individuals in the North Country to identify and promote activities to improve the health of communities throughout the region. The AHI Population Health Improvement Program is supported by a grant from the NYS Department of Health.

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