Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Advocates Fight to Stop Sunset of Skin Cancer Program

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Coburn has singled out the EPA’s SunWise program as part of a deficit-reduction plan, but advocates say it is pivotal to helping educate children about the risks of skin cancer.

To mark National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a group dedicated to educating schoolchildren about the hazards of too much sun exposure will hold a reception Wednesday to honor winners of its annual poster contest.

The SHADE Foundation runs the competition in partnership with the EPA’s SunWise program, a popular skin cancer eduction outreach initiative that provides resources to schools and educational organizations. The poster contest promotes a key tenet of the SunWise philosophy: A little bit of time spent addressing the issue in school every year can yield measurable changes in children’s sun-protection behavior.

But if President Barack Obama’s budget recommendation is followed, this will be the last time SunWise co-sponsors the poster contest. The administration has proposed cutting the program to save the annual $1 million appropriation.

By many measures, SunWise is a cost-effective success story. A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2008 concluded that every dollar spent on SunWise saves an estimated $2 to $4 in medical costs. Funding the program through fiscal 2015, the survey found, would prevent more than 50 premature deaths and 11,000 skin cancer cases.

Since the program launched in 2000, more than 31,000 schools and 5,700 organizations nationwide have taught the curriculum, according to the agency.

In 2005, Arizona became the first state to require that SunWise be taught in all public schools before ninth grade, and the Utah Legislature passed a resolution in 2006 encouraging schools to educate children about the risks of sun exposure.

Despite its popularity, critics say the program duplicates other federal efforts and is not part of the EPA’s core mission. The agency says the effort no longer requires federal taxpayer support.

“It’s a mature program where existing lesson plans and local capacity, resulting from years of federal government investment, can continue educating about the harmful effects of overexposure to the sun without continued federal funding,” the agency said in an email.

House appropriator Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican and a champion of efforts to combat skin cancer, is slated to be the keynote speaker at the SHADE Foundation poster contest event. Dent said the program has remained popular among lawmakers in the face of earlier efforts to cut it, and he expressed confidence that the program could be preserved, despite the current austerity mood in Congress.

“I think there’s a good chance because we’re talking about an amount of money that I think would be easier to restore than some other line items,” Dent said. “This is clearly a more manageable program — an easier ask — than some others.”

John Antonishak, executive director of the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, said SunWise is “almost annually” targeted for significant cuts or outright termination.

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