Radio PA Roundtable – September 22-24, 2017

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella talk about another state credit rating downgrade, new poll numbers for Governor Tom Wolf and a call to boost funding and research to fight childhood cancers.

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New Law Protects PA Firefighters

Governor Tom Corbett’s signature on HB 797 ends firefighters’ 25-year battle.  President of the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association, Art Martynuska, is ecstatic.  “Our men and women across the state – both career and volunteer – risk their lives on a daily basis, protecting the residents of Pennsylvania,” Martynuska tells us. 

The new law designates cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters in Pennsylvania.  For some types of cancer, Martynuska says, firefighters are at a 100% greater risk than members of the general public.

Previously, the onus was on the firefighter to prove that the cancer was caused by the cumulative effects of the job.  Now, the presumption is flipped.  But, Martynuska says the municipalities which pay for the workers compensation can still rebut: “Lifestyle things, heredity things, certain things of that nature would give [them options] to say no, it wasn’t a result of your exposure to products of combustion or hazardous materials.” 

Firefighters would have to meet certain conditions too.  For instance, they must have served at least four years of continuous firefighting duty, and they must have a prior cancer-free physical exam. 

A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Ed Rendell in 2010, but Martynuska says they’ve since sat down with the municipal groups who were expressing concerns with the bill.  HB 797 passed both chambers of the legislature with near unanimous support, and it takes effect immediately.  In all, Governor Tom Corbett signed 46 bills into law on Thursday.

Firefighter Cancer Presumption Legislation Heads to Governor


The state Senate has given approval to the Firefighter Cancer Presumption legislation and it’s heading to the Governor for his signature.

House bill 797 won unanimous approval from the state Senate on Monday.  It would cover firefighters who contract cancer on the job under the state’s Workers Compensation Act. 

State Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia), chair of the Labor and Industry Committee, says the House sponsor, Representative Frank Farry, is a firefighter.

Senator Gordner says a lot of work went into the bill and they have municipal groups on board.  But he says most importantly, they’re doing this for the firefighters. He says they never know what type of facility or dwelling or business that they might go in to, and they do not know what harmful chemicals may be in there when they go to fight a fire.

Similar legislation passed in the last session but was vetoed by Governor Rendell. Some small changes have been made this time. Senator Gordner says Governor Corbett enthusiastically supports the legislation.  

Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Senate Minority Chair, commended the work of Senators Gordner and Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), saying it’s another example of two committee chairs working very cooperatively together to address significant issues that impact the lives of working men and women in this Commonwealth.

Senator David Argall (R-Schuylkill), who introduced the senate version of the bill, supported the house version, calling it an example of cooperation on a lot of fronts, bipartisan and bicameral.


Food and Drug Administration Unveils New Cigarette Warning Labels

The Food and Drug Administration has unveiled nine new cigarette warning labels. The warnings will take up the top 50% of a pack of cigarettes and 20% of an advertisement for cigarettes.  They include graphic images of diseases related to smoking, such as lung disease and oral cancer. Tobacco companies have until September 2012 to comply.

Dr. Lawrence Deyton, Director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, says the warning labels have not changed in 25 years.  He says the average smoker no longer realizes that there’s a health warning on a pack of cigarettes.  He says scientific literature shows inclusion of a graphic image and a specific warning does help smokers increase their personal knowledge about their risk.

Dr. Deyton says for decades, the rates of smoking had been declining, but in the 7- 8 years, it has leveled off to 20%.  He says 1 in 5 high school kids smoke cigarettes.  The new labels are required as part of a law passed by Congress,  the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act.

Dr. Deyton says the new warnings convey the very personal and true risk of cigarette smoking.

He says the FDA started with 36 images and tested them extensively to determine which had the most impact.  He says they considered whether it educated the person looking at it, whether the person could recall the image and whether it changed the viewer’s beliefs about their own health risk and their intent to quit, or not to start smoking.

He says the warning also includes the 1-800-Quit-Now number, the national helpline. He says when a smoker picks up a pack with the new labels, there’s a resource they can act on instantly to get the help they need to stop smoking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says tobacco use is a leading cause of premature and preventable death in the United States.

Teen Tanning Bed Legislation

Bill Would Bar Teens from Tanning Beds

Pennsylvania teenagers would essentially be barred from tanning beds, under legislation that’s being debated in the State House Judiciary Committee.  “What the bill would do is prevent any business from allowing persons under the age of 18 from using an indoor tanning bed,” said State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon) at a Wednesday news conference.  Swanger cites research published last year in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention: “People who have ever used tanning beds were 74% more likely to develop melanoma than others.”

Earlier Wednesday, the State House Judiciary Committee heard a variety of testimony on Swanger’s bill.  Dr. Gavin Robertson from the Penn State Hershey Medical Center testified that the World Health Organization recommends completely banning tanning beds for kids under the age of 18, and classifying UV as a class one carcinogen.  In her own testimony, Swanger pointed out that she wants to amend the bill to make the penalties civil, not criminal.  “Violators should be fined and at some point lose their license, but I don’t intend for anyone to go to jail for such a violation.” 

Swanger’s bill would not stop teens from tanning, according to Joe Schuster from the Indoor Tanning Association, and industry trade group.  “It’ll send them outdoors into an uncontrolled environment with no supervision, no trained staff, no parental consent required, where they’re more likely to be overexposed or sunburned,” Schuster testified.  He argued that tanning beds are no more or less harmful than the sun. “Are you also prepared to ban these same teens from sun exposure at beaches at the various state parks and thousands of other pools, playgrounds and parks throughout the state of Pennsylvania?”

HB 369 currently awaits action in the Judiciary Committee, but it may get assigned to a different standing committee depending on the changes that Swanger wants to make to its penalties.