Category Archives: Public Health

Feb 5 2014
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Pulling the Plug on the Tobacco “Power Wall”: CVS Pharmacies to Stop Selling Tobacco

The announcement by CVS Caremark this morning that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its more than 7,600 CVS pharmacy stores across the United States by October 1, 2014, does more than just end an outlet for smokers. It also removes a highly effective marketing tactic from those stores, the tobacco "power wall," which is aimed at enticing current and would-be smokers—especially children and teens—to smoke.  

Most retail food and sundry stores include the colorful display walls, which are usually designed by tobacco companies who also often provide financial incentives to store owners to keep the walls stocked. A report, updated in 2012, by the  Center for Public Health and Tobacco Policy which is funded by the New York State and Vermont departments of Health, says the power walls “are highly engineered by tobacco companies to maximize visual intrusiveness and instigate impulse purchases.” The report adds that the walls “function as a subtle kind of advertising, conveying the message that cigarettes are popular and desirable."

 

Tobacco "power wall" in a pharmacy, alongside tobacco cessation aids

A 2006 study in the journal Heath Education Research  found that “[t]he presence of cigarette displays at the point-of-sale... has adverse effects on students’ perceptions about ease of access to cigarettes and brand recall, both factors that increase the risk of taking up smoking.”

And, according to a November report on point of sale displays by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, exposure to point of sale tobacco product displays “influences youth smoking, promotes the social acceptability of tobacco products, increases impulse tobacco purchases and undermines quitting attempts.”

While San Francisco and a few other cities have passed laws that ban cigarette sales in pharmacies, and the advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights is working to expand that ban, no U.S. jurisdictions have ended displays of tobacco products  according to tobacco control legal experts, generally because of concern that they might be sued by tobacco companies claiming an infringement of the companies’ right to commercial free speech under the U.S. Constitution. Recently, tobacco control legal experts have said tobacco company suits likely have less merit since the 2009 law giving regulation of most U.S. tobacco products to the Food and Drug Administration.

But tobacco control advocates hope other major pharmcies will follow the CVS example, since leveraging the power of private companies to support a culture of health may be a far more effective way to bring down those walls.

>>Read a statement by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president Risa Lavizzo Mourey on the CVS Caremark decision to stop selling cigarettes in its stores.

Dec 30 2013
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Helping Working Families Find Homes They Can Afford

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently posted an interview with Teresa Bainton, director of the New York Multifamily HUB, which manages multifamily housing programs in the Northeast. Bainton’s job puts her in constant contact with families, veterans, seniors, developers, elected officials and building owners and managers. Bainton says the work, though so rewarding, is especially challenging in the Northeast, where housing prices are often higher than average costs for the rest of the United States.

>>Read the full interview.

Dec 30 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 30

More Than One Million People Now Enrolled for Health Insurance Coverage under the Affordable Care Act
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the health insurance provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) reported late last week that more than one million people have now enrolled for coverage under the ACA.

CMS also reported that December enrollment as of December 27 was seven times that of October and November. Open enrollment will continue through March, with rolling dates for first day of coverage. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Flu Cases on the Rise
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota reported last week that rates of flu are on the rise in the United States, with the 2009 H1N1 virus the predominant strain. The good news is that this year’s flu vaccine is protective against H1N1.

According to CIDRAP, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that the 2009 H1N1 virus has a greater impact on younger adults and older children than seasonal flu strains typically do.

The numbers of U.S. flu cases are usually highest January through March, which means that people who have not had flu shots yet still have time to protect themselves. Full immunity from the vaccine can take up to two weeks from the time of the injection. Use the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder to find a flu shot in your neighborhood. Read more on outbreaks.

New Orleans Health Commissioner to become Federal Health IT Administrator
New Orleans Health Commissioner Karen DeSalvo, MD, has been appointed the new National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (IT), replacing Farzad Mostashari, who left the position earlier this year. In a memo to employees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the office of the National Coordinator, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted that Dr. DeSalvo boosted the use of health IT as "a cornerstone of [New Orleans’s] primary care efforts and a key part of the city's policy development, public health initiatives and emergency preparedness." Dr. DeSalvo will begin her post in mid-January. Under Dr. DeSalvo's leadership, New Orleans also received the inaugural Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health Prize.

Dec 27 2013
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New Infographic, Premium Payment Extension Will Help People Signing up for Health Insurance Coverage

Americans Health Insurance Plans, the trade association of many of the U.S. health insurance companies, has released a very easy to understand new infographic that helps simplify the steps for buying health insurance on the federal or state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

The new infographic is not the only bonus from the trade association this season. Last week the group announced that most insurers are extending the deadline for people purchasing coverage to pay their premiums to January 10, so long as signup for the plan is before January 1. Coverage for those signups will be retroactive to January 1.

Dec 26 2013
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Help the Homeless: What You Can Do

A new survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors released earlier this month found that in many U.S. cities homelessness increased by as much as 4 percent this year. The permanent solution to homelessness will require the concerted efforts of companies, communities, legislatures and individuals and includes affordable housing, jobs and economic policies and strong mental health support. That’s a lot to tackle, but there are some things individuals can do to make life a bit easier — and healthier — for homeless people in their communities.

Here are a few suggestions from online charitable giving site justGive.org, which has a full list of 35 ideas on its site:

  1. Buy Street Sheet or Street SenseThese biweekly newspapers are sold in almost every major American city and are intended to help the homeless help themselves by offering them economic opportunities and elevating their voices in the discussion on how to end homelessness. For every paper sold, the participants earn five cents deposited in a special savings account earmarked for rent.
  2. Bring food: When you pass someone who asks for change, offer him or her something to eat. If you take a lunch, pack a little extra. When you eat at a restaurant, order something to take with you when you leave.
  3. Give recyclables: In localities where there is a "bottle law," collecting recyclable cans and bottles is often a viable source of income for homeless people. It is an honest job that requires initiative. You can help by saving your recyclable bottles, cans, and newspapers and giving them to homeless people instead of taking them to a recycling center or leaving them out for collection (or, worse, not recycling at all!).
  4. Volunteer your professional services: No matter what you do for a living, you can help the homeless with your on-the-job talents and skills. Those with clerical skills can train those with little skills. Doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and dentists can treat the homeless in clinics. Lawyers can help with legal concerns. The homeless' needs are bountiful — your time and talent won't be wasted. There are many different volunteer organizations through which you can channel your efforts.
  5. Volunteer for follow-up programs: Some homeless people, particularly those who have been on the street for a while, may need help with fundamental tasks such as paying bills, balancing a household budget, or cleaning. Follow-up programs to give the formerly homeless further advice, counseling, and other services — and are always in need of volunteers.
  6. Create lists of needed donations: Call all the organizations in your community that aid the homeless and ask them what supplies they need on a regular basis. Make a list for each organization, along with its address, telephone number, and the name of a contact person. Then mail these lists to community organizations that may wish to help with donations —from religious centers to children's organizations such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
  7. Help the homeless apply for aid - Governmental aid is available for homeless people, but many may not know where to find it or how to apply. Since they don't have a mailing address, governmental agencies may not be able to reach them. You can help by directing the homeless to intermediaries, such as homeless organizations, that let them know what aid is available and help them to apply for it. If you want to be an advocate or intermediary for the homeless yourself, you can contact these organizations as well.

>>Bonus Links:

Dec 24 2013
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Five Safety Tips for a Safer and Healthier Holiday Season

Give the gift of holiday safety with a dose of prevention. Photo courtesy of wantmorepuppies on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wantmorepuppies/8242328217/sizes/l/

We hate to be the bearers of buzz kill, but folks should think about adding “safety” to their holiday wish lists this year. Researchers at the Consumer Product Safety Commission say there are about 250 injuries a day during the holiday season. Last year the most frequently reported holiday accidents seen in emergency departments involved falls (34%), lacerations (11%) and back strains (10%). And from 2009 through 2011, fire departments nationwide responded to an average of 200 fires in which the Christmas tree was the first item ignited—resulting in 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property loss for those years. Candle-related fires during holidays between 2009 and 2011 resulted in an estimated 70 deaths, 680 injuries and $308 million in property loss.

Best tips for avoiding Holiday fires: discard sets of holiday lights with evidence of damage such as broken sockets and bare wires; water Christmas trees frequently; and always extinguish candles before leaving a room.

Here are our top five safety tips for the holidays culled from the websites of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration:

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Dec 24 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 24

HUD to Grant Millions in Rental Assistance for Senior Housing Developments
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced $14.8 million to preserve affordable rental assistance for elderly tenants living in subsidized properties. This funding is provided through HUD’s Senior Preservation Rental Assistance Contracts and is targeted for properties in HUD’s “Supportive Housing for the Elderly” program, where rental assistance may expire without the new funding. Read more on aging.

U.S. Forest Service Will Waive Some Recreation Fees Five Times in 2014
The U.S. Forest Service will waive fees at most of its day-use recreation sites on: Jan. 20, 2014, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day; President's Day weekend Feb. 15-17; National Get Outdoors Day on June 14; National Public Lands Day on Sept. 27; and Veterans Day weekend from Nov. 8 to 11.

Get Outdoors Days helps to raise awareness that nature encourages healthy, active outdoor fun. In addition to waiving fees, various Forest Service units participate in a variety of public events on agency lands and in nearby cities and towns. Public Lands Day is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer effort in support of public lands. Agency units plan their own events, which range from educational programs to trash pick-up to building trails.

National forests and grasslands include more than 150,000 miles of trails, which include hiking, biking, equestrian and motorized trails, and more than 10,000 developed recreation sites, as well as 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, 9,100 miles of National Scenic Byways, 22 National Recreation Areas, 11 National Scenic Areas, seven National Monuments, one national preserve and one national heritage area.

Many sites are already free; fees that could be waived under the program include picnic grounds and admission to visitor centers. Read more on physical activity.

Healthier Holiday Ideas from the USDA
As its holiday gift, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers some healthy tweaks for consumers to help make holiday celebrations healthier including ideas for lighter cocktail fare, lower sugar and lower fat  recipes for baked goods, and gift-giving ideas that focus on physical activity. Read more on obesity.

Dec 23 2013
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Robocop: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over

If you’re looking for a sneak preview of the movie Robocop, set for release next February, try the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA has paid for a proprietary video that has the cop reminding drivers to stay sober behind the wheel. NHTSA just released the public service announcement as part of its annual Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, which runs through January 1. 

Last year, according to NHTSA, deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers increased 4.6 percent — 10,322 lives were lost, compared to 9,865 in 2011. The majority of those crashes involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or higher — nearly double the legal limit. During last year’s holiday season alone, 830 lives were lost in drunk driving crashes.

The campaign also includes state model guidelines for ignition interlock devices. These devices can be added to the car of a driver with a history of drunk driving. Before starting the vehicle, the driver must breathe into the device and if the driver’s blood alcohol limit is too high, the ignition lock will not allow the car to start.

Previous NHTSA research of convicted drunk drivers show that those with ignition locks installed are 75 percent less likely to repeat the behavior compared to those who do not. The guidelines emphasize several programs to maximize effectiveness – including legislation, education, program administration, and implementation.

“It is unacceptable and downright offensive that anyone would get behind the wheel drunk, let alone at twice the legal limit,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “I urge the states to adopt our new guidelines to protect sober motorists and ensure that individuals convicted of drunk driving learn from their mistakes.”

According to NHTSA, over the past decade, almost two of every five (41 percent) deaths that occur around the New Year’s holiday and the Christmas holiday (37 percent) were alcohol-impaired.

>>Bonus Link: NHTSA has safety tips and information on sober driving during the holidays. View NHTSA's Safety 1n Numbers newsletter for safety tips and information on sober driving during the holidays.

Dec 12 2013
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New Report: Continued Rise in Hunger and Homelessness for 2014

Chefs cooking in restaurant kitchen. Food pantries in 25 cities surveyed had to reduce the amount of food provided because of budget challenges.

Unemployment and poverty top the reasons why homelessness and hunger continue to grow in the U.S., according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors 31st Hunger and Homelessness Survey, released yesterday. “There’s no question that the nation’s economy is on the mend, but there’s also no question that the slow pace of recovery is making it difficult and, for many, impossible, to respond to the growing needs of the hungry and the homeless,” said Tom Cochran, executive director of the Conference of Mayors during a conference call with reporters yesterday about the report.  

The new report is based on surveys of city officials in the 25 cities that make up the Conference’s task force on Hunger and Homelessness, and all but one of the participating cities said requests for help had either gone up or stayed the same as the previous year.

Additional findings of the report include:

  • The number of families and individuals experiencing homelessness increased across the survey cities by an average of 4 percent.
  • More than one in five people needing assistance did not receive it because of insufficient city and donated funds.
  • Because of the increase in requests many emergency kitchens and food pantries in the 25 cities surveyed had to reduce the amount of food provided to individuals or families.  

One positive note in this year’s report was an increase in aid provided to homeless veterans because of targeted efforts by cities, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration. Eighty percent of the survey cities were able to find stable housing for some previously homeless veterans.

Many of the 25 survey cities addressed homelessness and hunger problems by adopting innovative programs specific to their communities to address and improve the situation. The Conference of Mayors report includes many examples both to highlight innovation and to serve as models for other cities working to improve the housing and food security conditions of their citizens:

Read more

Nov 20 2013
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How Do You Transform a Community After a Century of Neglect?

Bithlo, Fla. is a town of 8,000 that is just 30 minutes outside Orlando and not much farther from the “happiest place on Earth” — but is beset by poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and toxic dumps that have infiltrated the drinking water. The water is so bad that it has eroded many residents’ teeth, making it that much harder for them to find jobs. Streets filled with trash, frequent road deaths and injuries from a lack of transportation options and safe places to walk, and dropping out before 10th grade were all the norm.

In just a short time, a collection of partners and volunteers have begun to reverse some of the decades-old problems Bithlo has faced. And earlier this week, the town that had been forgotten for almost a century was the scene of a hubbub of activity as hundreds of volunteers descended on the town to continue work on “Transformation Village,” Bithlo’s future main street, which will sport a combination library/coffee shop, schools, shops and many other services, all long missing from Bithlo.

Over the last few months, NewPublicHealth has reported on initiatives of the participating members of Stakeholder Health, formerly known as the Health Systems Learning Group. Stakeholder Health is a learning collaborative made up of 43 organizations, including 36 nonprofit health systems, that share innovative practices aimed at improving health and economic viability of communities.

>>Read more on the Stakeholder Health effort to leverage health care systems to improve community health.

One of the Stakeholder Health members is the Adventist Health System, a not-for-profit health care system that has hospitals across the country. Recently, Adventist’s flagship health care provider, Florida Hospital in Orlando, began supporting United Global Outreach (UGO), a non-profit group aimed at building up communities in need, in their four-year-long effort to transform the town of Bithlo.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Tim McKinney, executive vice president of United Global Outreach, and Verbelee Neilsen-Swanson, vice president of community impact at Florida Hospital, about the partnerships and commitment that have gone into Bithlo’s transformation into a town that is looking forward to new housing stock, jobs, stores, better education and improved health outcomes for the its citizens.

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