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NIH Record

Stamp Revenues Benefit Breast Cancer Studies

By April Fritz

Beginning this month, Americans will have the opportunity to fight breast cancer by paying 8 cents extra to mail a letter. On Aug. 6, the U.S. Postal Service issued a new postage stamp, one that will directly benefit breast cancer research. This is the first "cost-plus" stamp ever issued by the United States.

The idea of a post office charging a little extra for charity is not new. Such stamps, called semipostals, assess a surcharge over the cost of a regular stamp, with the extra donated to a worthy cause. Germany and France were the first two nations to issue semipostal stamps, both prior to World War I; the net proceeds went to charities in the two countries. Finland issued a semipostal to benefit the Red Cross a few years later, and many other countries have issued them on behalf of various causes. Until this year, however, the U.S. had never issued such a stamp.

Net proceeds from the stamp, by law, are to be given to NIH (70 percent) and the Department of Defense (30 percent) specifically for breast cancer research.

The Breast Cancer Research Stamp is about 1 inch wide and 1.5 inches tall. The stamp's designer is a breast cancer survivor, Ethel Kessler of Bethesda. Her design is based on an ink line drawing of Diana, the ancient Roman goddess of the hunt, by Baltimore artist Whitney Sherman.

Two hundred million of these self-adhesive stamps will be issued. Assuming that all the stamps are sold, breast cancer research will receive $16 million, less costs.

The citizens stamp advisory committee of the U.S. Postal Service has emphasized health topics recently. Beginning with the 1996 Breast Cancer Awareness stamp, which depicted the silhouette of a woman and a pink ribbon, the Post Office has issued or is planning to issue a number of commemorative stamps including AIDS awareness, drug abuse, Hospice Care (Nov. 5, 1998) and Organ and Tissue Donation (Aug. 5, 1998). A Prostate Cancer Awareness stamp (not a semipostal) is planned for 1999.

In January 1999, the rate for a first class stamp will rise from 32 to 33 cents. At that time, net proceeds from the stamp that go to breast cancer research will be trimmed by that extra penny. The stamp is viewed as a 2-year experiment to test the public's reaction to specialty postage stamps. At the end of 2 years, the Post Office will determine the success of this semipostal in terms of the revenues it has generated for research.

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