If we want to fight cancer, we should tax the companies that cause it

Americans don’t agree on much of anything lately. Except taxes – who doesn’t hate taxes? And also cancer: everyone hates cancer.

Maybe hating cancer was on President Joe Biden’s mind when, earlier this month, he shared plans to reduce the cancer death rate by at least 50% over the next 25 years – a lofty goal for his Cancer Moonshot program.

But back to taxes. To succeed, Biden needs a radical new approach. We’d like to propose one: a cancer tax.

The idea has solid precedent. There are already taxes on products known to create health problems, including a federal cigarette tax and sugary drink taxes. Think of a cancer tax like a carbon offset – corporations pay for the harm they inflict.

Proceeds would be used to fund prevention, the most neglected element of cancer initiatives. Treatment gets about 97% to 98% of all health-related spending in the United States, while prevention gets a piddly 2% to 3%. But to end cancer as we know it, it is critical that we stop it before it needs a cure.

Prevention is not anti-cure. It’s complimentary – a one-two punch. While the science behind cancer treatment is truly astonishing, it’s equally remarkable how little we understand about why cancer occurs. Risk factors like genetics, age, and lifestyle all play a role, but how they combine is often unclear. Environmental factors, including the massive increase in the number of cancer-causing chemicals we all come in contact with every day, are clearly part of the equation. Most people aren’t even aware of these exposures, though many can and should be prevented – or at the very least reduced.

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