If we want to fight cancer, we should tax the companies that cause it | Jon Whelan and Alexandra Zissu

We tax cigarettes and sodas because they’re bad for you. We should tax companies that put carcinogens in the environment

​​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.

Industrial facilities, like those identified in a recent ProPublica report analyzing five years of data from the Environmental Protection Agency. They spew cancer-causing chemicals into the surrounding air, often permeating economically vulnerable communities where people of color disproportionately live. There are chemical and manufacturing plants spewing these pollutants right next to schools and daycares. Typically, facilities will claim it’s too expensive to remediate.

Agrochemical companies, including those responsible for the contamination of Nebraska’s surface and groundwater; a 2022 study from the University of Nebraska Medical Center shows high numbers of pediatric cancer cases associated with watersheds tainted by chemicals in fertilizer and weedkiller. Nebraska’s pediatric cancer rate is the seventh highest in the country.

Personal care product companies like Johnson & Johnson; in 2018, 22 women with ovarian cancer won a $4.69bn lawsuit against J&J (the award was later reduced to $2bn) for allegedly selling a baby powder containing cancer-causing asbestos for many years and covering it up. Classy.

Jon Whelan is an entrepreneur and director of the environmental documentary Stink! Alexandra Zissu is a journalist, the author of six environmental health-related books, and a recent cancer mom. They’re both board members of Clean & Healthy New York

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