Category Archives: Recommended Reading
While twelve states currently have laws regulating sales of electronic cigarettes (known as e-cigarettes) to minors, a new post on the Network for Public Health Law blog calls on more states to restrict sales to minors while the Food and Drug Administration continues their review of the device.
E-cigarettes contain nicotine, but no tobacco and often come in kid-alluring flavors such as chocolate and vanilla. According to the Network post, one small FDA study found carcinogens and toxins in e-cigarettes. Health experts are concerned that the electronic devices may also be a gateway tool for young adults to actual, cancer-causing, tobacco-filled cigarettes.
E-cigarette use has skyrocketed among adults, according to a recent study by researchers funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011, about 21 percent of adults who smoke traditional cigarettes had used electronic cigarettes, up from about 10 percent in 2010. Awareness of e-cigarettes rose from about four in 10 adults in 2010 to six in 10 adults in 2011.
Two weeks have passed since the sequester—across the board federal budget cuts of close to $100 billion—went into effect with no roll back in sight. An essay by Abdul El-Sayed, a social epidemiologist and physician-in-training at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, details the impact the cuts will have on public health, which has already seen deep budget slashes in the last two years. El-Sayed says since 2010 public health spending has already decreased by about $2.5 billion—nearly 8 percent—and sequestration doubles that total to nearly 16 percent “with potentially more cuts to come in the next several years.”
Sayed reviewed the programs targeted and says public health impacts include cuts in vaccination rates; HIV testing; breast and cervical cancer screening; food service inspections; training for public health workers in epidemiology; laboratory skills; and outbreak investigations and global heath funding.
“Worse than the short-term impacts of sequestration on public health at home and abroad may be the lasting implications sequestration’s cuts will have for the future of public health,” says El-Sayed. “If unabated, these cuts will extend through fiscal year 2021, crippling our public health infrastructure by starving critical organizations, such as the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), of the funds they need to carry out even their most basic operations.”
Read the article.
An article in the New York Times reports that health departments in some states are increasing their efforts on gun safety and suicide prevention in part because of a startling finding by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health: far more Americans die from guns they aim at themselves than in mass shootings.
By the numbers:
- Nearly 20,000 of the 30,000 deaths from guns in the United States in 2010 were suicides.
- Wyoming, Montana and Alaska are the states with the three highest suicide rates; they’re also on the list of top gun owning states.
- The national suicide rate has climbed by 12 percent since 2003.
- Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teenagers.
- Suicide attempts using a gun are fatal 85 percent of the time; suicide attempts with pills are successful 2 percent of the time.
State health departments in Missouri, North Carolina and Wyoming, the state with the highest suicide rate, are giving out gunlocks. In New Hampshire some gun shops post flyers with warning signs for suicide and a recommendation to keep guns from people who are at risk of harming themselves. Some gun owners in Maryland are considering a similar outreach project.
>>Read the article.
>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth post about the Surgeon General’s National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, launched last year.
A new study funded by Public Health Law Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at Temple University, addresses the consequences of weak penalties for domestic violence offenders in the U.S.
Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, accounts for an estimated 1,200 deaths and two million injuries among women each year. The new study, authored by Frank Sloan, PhD, professor of health policy and management at Duke University, and published in the journal Risk and Uncertainty, reviewed data from the North Carolina administrative courts and found that there are often repeat offenses for men arrested for domestic violence and that penalties don’t seem to significantly reduce repeat arrests or convictions.
Sloan points to low prosecution rates and minimal fines as reasons behind many repeat offenses. The study did find, however, that defendants who hired a private lawyer are less likely to be arrested or convicted during the follow-up period because the added costs may be a deterrent.
Following the shootings of 26 people, including twenty children, in Newtown earlier this month, three American Medical Association journals have published articles that take a hard look at gun violence in the United States.
- An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association looks at reduced funding in the last few years for gun injury prevention research, while increased funding for other types of injury prevention such as motor vehicle crashes, has resulted in fewer deaths.
- An essay in the Archives of Internal Medicine looks at guns as “weapons of mass destruction” and suggests strategies to reduce citizen casualties and mass shootings.
- Two contributors in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine write about the Florida law that prevents health care professionals from asking patients or families about firearms in the home.
Read a blog post from the Network for Public Health Law on strategies that may help reduce mass shootings in the U.S. The author, Leila Barraza, JD, MPH, Deputy Director, Network for Public Health Law-Western Region, says that while increased mental health coverage and screenings and gun controls alone will likely not be enough to prevent mass shootings, “the public health law community will have a vital role to play as policies are created and evaluated.”
Read a recent NewPublicHealth interview with Jeffrey Swanson, PHD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, on how laws can help prevent gun violence.
As recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy continue, homeowners who lost their homes are filing insurance claims or hoping for federal help to rebuild. But there are also calls to require those rebuilding in coastal areas to make changes to the structures, and the seaside, to reduce the potential damage—and its cost—if disaster strikes again. People with ocean view homes, however, typically resist suggestions such as sand dunes or rebuilding homes on higher ground or on raised platforms to reduce flooding, according to a recent article in the New York Times.
Expect the debate to continue. Most flood insurance is issued by the U.S. government because private insurers don’t want to absorb the risk. And the money needed to pay out claims exceeds the premiums collected.
>>Read the full article.
Food banks have been front and center in the news since Hurricane Sandy as resources for shelf-stable food for people without power. But a recent article in the New York Times says the increased attention on the vital assistance the banks are providing right now, is a good opportunity to showcase the many other services they provide, storm or not, including:
- providing fresh produce (some the banks grow fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables themselves)
- nutrition education classes
- cooking demonstrations
- advocacy for ending hunger
- feeding children during non-school hours
- education about food stamps, now known as SNAP.
>>Read the full New York Times article.
The American Public Health Association and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership have joined together to create an active transportation primer, Promoting Active Transportation: An Opportunity for Public Health.
The goal of the primer is to provide public health practitioners with critical background information on the value of active transportation, such as walking, bike riding, jogging and running to help reduce obesity, transportation expenses and the environmental impact of cars and buses in communities. The primer authors say educating public health leaders about active transportation can affect how transportation is built in communities, regions and states, and engage stakeholders to find effective calls for action.
New federal transportation legislation became effective this month and includes opportunities for public health practitioners to take active roles in moving active transportation forward in their communities including:
- Safe bicycling routes
- Improved sidewalks
- Multi-use pathways
>>Bonus Links: Check out a Q&A with Deb Hubsmith, director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Also read a NewPublicHealth interview with Michelle Windmoeller, assistant director of the PedNet Coalition, which promotes active transportation in communities.
Last week The Atlantic hosted a town hall event to discuss what’s being done—and what more should be done—to cultivate a healthy community in Philadelphia, though the discussion had implications for public health in communities across the country.
"A Conversation on Community Health" (underwritten by GlaxoSmithKline) featured entertainer and activist Dr. Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. The two co-wrote “Come on, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors,” which analyzed the state of African-Americans and discussed how they—and others—can overcome deep-rooted community and cultural challenges.
Poussaint also worked closely with Cosby on the hit 1980’s television program The Cosby Show, helping with the scripts to ensure they eliminated stereotypes, emphasized education and promoted an overall positive message.
Both agreed this emphasis on making sure positive messages reached kids early in life was a major factor in success later in life. Poussaint stressed the importance of education, saying a good education improved everything from nutrition to overall life expectancy, while decreasing the chance of incarceration. [View our INFOGRAPHIC on the connection between better education and healthier lives.] He also spoke on how parents and schools can work together to ensure kids, even before they’re in preschool, become literate on good health and nutrition. These young lessons can turn into life-long, positive habits.
Whatever communities are already doing to improve public health, or what programs and assistance they add in the future, it’s vital that people do everything they can to make sure their fellow community members know what resources are available, according to Cosby.
“We’ve got to find people in the neighborhoods who will go out, knock on doors, in church—get the word out,” said Cosby.
The town hall also featured Dr. Brian McDonough, Medical Editor for KYW News Radio; Dr. Irwin Redlener, MD, President and Co-Founder, Children's Health Fund; Dr. Robert Simmons, DrPH, Director of Public Health Programs, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals; Sarah Martinez-Helfman, Executive Director of Eagles Youth Partnership; and Steve Clemons, Editor-in-Chief, AtlanticLIVE, and Washington Editor-at-Large, The Atlantic.
>>See more on "A Conversation on Community Health."
New York’s high cigarette tax—the highest in the country, at $4.35 per pack—has helped the state cut smoking levels dramatically for both adults and high school students, according to a new study in PLoS One.
The state’s rate of adult smoking dropped by 28 percent from 2003 to 2010, while the national rate for the same period dropped only 11 percent. The rate for New York high school students dropped 38 percent from 2003 to 2011, compared to a national drop of 17 percent. There are approximately 664,000 adult smokers in New York.
While a clear contributor, a high cigarette tax is just one of the tactics that’s helped improve the state’s health, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. New York also has a comprehensive smoke-free air law, as well as prevention and cessation programs. Overall, these public health strategies have helped prevent more than 300,000 kids from smoking and saved approximately $11.6 billion in health care costs.
Despite the clear public health successes, Tobacco-Free Kids says more still needs to be done to help low-income New Yorkers quit smoking. While the study determined their smoking rate is also well below the national rate, 24.3 percent of New Yorkers earning less than $30,000 annually are smokers.
>> Read more on the study from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
>> Read more on how tobacco taxes can help cut health care costs.