Washington state would lead the fight against cancer under legislation introduced by Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland and Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina. The legislation, SB 5808 in the Senate and HB 2194 in the House, would raise the tax on cigarettes by 50 cents per pack and invest the money in cancer research, prevention and care.

Both Habib and Hunter are cancer survivors. Habib lost his sight at the age of eight due to a rare form of childhood eye cancer, and Hunter survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“This is a transformative opportunity for cancer research and for Washington,” said Habib. “As federal funding for cancer research diminishes, the states need to step up and support this critical and growing research sector. We have the opportunity to make Washington a national leader in cancer research, create jobs and grow our economy in the biotechnology sector, while providing the best possible cancer care and prevention for Washingtonians and people across the world. This bill will quite literally save lives.”

“As a two-time cancer survivor, I know the importance of high-quality treatment,” said Hunter. “The Seattle area has long been at the leading edge of cancer research and I want to make sure we stay that way. This funding will improve lives around the world and have a significant economic benefit here in Washington.”

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Washington and is the leading cause of childhood mortality due to disease. Many of the state’s high rates of cancer can be prevented and treated, particularly if detected early and patients have access to the most effective care, the lawmakers said. Washington has an existing infrastructure of world-class cancer research and care centers for children and adults that can develop and apply new techniques for the prevention of cancer and care of cancer patients throughout the state.

The funds raised by the proposal would be used to fund research programs at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington Medical School and other local research institutions. The proposal would prioritize sustained investments in research with the greatest potential to improve health outcomes and grow our economy. The research proposals would be reviewed by independent, scientific committees to ensure efficiency and accountability. Texas and other states have created similar dedicated funds for cancer research.

The proposal would encourage the growth of biotechnology facilities in Washington, like the Juno Therapeutics immunotherapy research and manufacturing facilities recently announced in the Puget Sound region. These and other innovative new treatments are already improving care at local hospitals like Seattle Children’s hospital.

SB 5808, the Senate version of the bill, has passed out of the Senate Health Care Committee with strong bipartisan support. The lawmakers are optimistic that the policy will be incorporated in the budget proposals soon to be presented in the House and the Senate.