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Cindy Gruden at Capitol to support boosting cigarette tax for Moffitt Cancer funding

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

With former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden sick at home, wife Cindy Gruden stepped in to stump for Moffitt Cancer Center‘s request for increased funding at the Capitol.

Gruden was one of more than 75 representatives of the Moffitt Cancer Center, who came by bus and bicycle — doctors, patients, caregivers, community leaders, and researchers — Tuesday to ask the Legislature to support identical bills (SB 662 and HB 651) filed by Sen. Dana Young and Rep. James Grant. The bills would increase annual funding from the state’s cigarette tax by $8 million to help fund an ambitious plan of expansion for the nation’s No. 6-rated cancer research and treatment center.

“If he were here, (Jon) would tell you Moffitt is all about teamwork,” Cindy Gruden said. The couple live in Tampa.

“They come together, day after day, helping their patients have a winning game plan,” she said. “We’re going to kick cancer to the curb.”

Grant and Young also appeared to support the funding request.

The cause is personal for Grant. “I almost grew up without a mom who beat breast cancer twice,” he said. “The amount of research, the economic impact statewide, the type of care that any family dealing with a diagnosis as devastating as cancer, can happen here in a world-class fashion without having to leave the state of Florida.

“Being No. 6 in the country is not good enough for me; it’s going to cost some money but I think we need to set our sights on becoming No. 1 … cancer center in the United States,” said Young during a press conference in the Capitol rotunda.

“M.D. Anderson in Texas gets $250 million annually from the Legislature,” she said of the nation’s top-rated cancer center. “We aren’t even close to that, but hopefully with this $8 million increase, we will allow Moffitt to build the state-of-the-art facilities they need … to attract the best and the brightest minds to continue the fight against cancer.”

Young is ready to advocate for continued increased funding for the cancer center.

“In this budget, it will be hard to tell what kind of nonrecurring funds will be available, but we absolutely like to see this repeat each year if possible,” she said. “It may be a heavy lift, but it’s a lift worth trying because Moffitt is so important to the state of Florida.”

Last November, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Moffitt Center announced a 10-year, $800 million expansion that will include a new hospital wing, two research buildings, a clinical support building, and additional outpatient facilities.

Dedicated to the prevention and cure of cancer, the Tampa-based facility is one of 47 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a distinction recognizing Moffitt’s excellence in research, clinical trials, prevention, and cancer control. In addition to being the No. 6 cancer hospital in the nation, Moffitt is No. 1 in Florida and throughout the southeast. It has been listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of the “Best Hospitals” for cancer care since 1999.

Recently celebrating its 30th anniversary, Moffitt has more than 5,200 employees and boasts an economic impact in the state of $2.1 billion. It is participating in more than 450 active clinical trials and treated more than 56,000 outpatients last year.

The facility is named in honor of former House Speaker F. Lee Moffitt, who first suggested a cancer center for Tampa in the late 1970s. During his tenure in the House, he shepherded through a $600,000 appropriation for planning and then $3.5 million in start-up funds in 1981. As Speaker, he drafted a bill earmarking $70 million from a state cigarette tax for construction. The cancer center opened to patients in October 1986. reporter Jim Rosica contributed to this report.

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