Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Join the National Discussion on Healthcare Reform

President Obama is inviting you to share your questions on healthcare reform. Then, during an online town hall Wednesday at 1:15 pm Eastern, he'll answer some of the most popular questions.

More information in available on the White House Blog: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/A-National-Discussion-on-Health-Care-Reform/

You can help ensure heart disease and stroke patients have a voice in the discussion!

Submit your question through YouTube, Twitter or Facebook:

Then, participate live in the President's online town hall Wednesday, July 1 at 1:15 pm Eastern. You can access the town hall at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

We'd love to know what questions you're asking... leave a comment here and tell us what issues you hope the President will address during his town hall.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The White House Signing of the FDA Tobacco Bill

Today, we have a guest post from AHA CEO Nancy Brown. Enjoy!

"I was honored to join AHA President, Dr. Timothy Gardner, Government Relations Manager Derek Scholes, and dozens of our public health partners at the White House yesterday when President Obama signed the FDA Tobacco Bill.

It was a great privilege to join our public health partners in celebrating over a decade of work to further this important legislation. I can’t think of another piece of legislation that has the support of over 1,000 public health organizations who worked tirelessly to advance this cause. The American Heart Association remained at the forefront of this fight with key partners, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association.

The significance of this legislation on the health of Americans can’t be emphasized strongly enough. I am grateful to our You’re the Cure Advocates, and American Heart Association staff and volunteers across the country who have devoted so much time and energy to make this day a reality.

I’ve had several people ask – “so what was it like to be at the White House”? The signing celebration was actually in the Rose Garden, which is as beautiful in person as it is on television. The President was joined by Vice President Biden, and over a dozen key Members of Congress who were there smiling broadly as the bill was signed. President Obama made a very passionate speech about the importance of the bill, the lives it will save, and the savings to our healthcare system we will realize because of improved public health. He even commented on his own use of tobacco, which began when he was a teenager. Check out the photos posted below of the signing ceremony.

Following the ceremony, we joined other AHA DC-based staff at a celebration party hosted by the American Cancer Society. There, I was able to share my thoughts on the significance of this bill to the AHA, our mission, and the public we serve. John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, the volunteer chairman of the board of the American Lung Association, and Matt Myers, CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids also talked passionately about the impact this bill will have.

It was such an honor to represent all of the AHA volunteers and staff on such a significant day. I will remember this day always.

As an interesting aside, I asked our two former CEO’s recently to reflect upon their visits to the White House as well as on the decade long fight for FDA regulation. Both Cass Wheeler and Dudley Hafner have been blogging and twittering about their experiences over the years in the fight for FDA regulation of tobacco products. Dudley shared with me yesterday that he visited the White House three times when he was CEO: Once with President Reagan, and twice for visits with President Clinton, all to talk about the importance of and need for strong public policy in the area of tobacco control. Cass also had several opportunities to visit the White House during his tenure as CEO, and he even ran a short race with President Clinton early in his years as CEO…

Thank you again for all of your work to advance this critical piece of legislation that will truly change the health of Americans."

CEO Nancy Brown at the White House

On Monday, American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown and AHA President Timothy Gardner were in the White House Rose Garden as the President signed into law the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. You can read Nancy Brown's statement on the momentous occasion below. She is seen in this photo from CNN shaking hands with President Obama just after he signed the bill.

Nancy Brown's Statement:
"Today, President Obama signed landmark legislation that will have a dramatic impact on the health of all Americans as we fight to reduce death and disease from tobacco use. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act will force the tobacco industry to abandon a destructive business model that kills more than 400,000 Americans each year. No longer will Big Tobacco be allowed to deceive children and adults with misleading claims about hazardous products. No longer will tobacco companies have free reign to launch shameless advertising campaigns targeting children in hopes of addicting a new generation of smokers.

We commend the Administration and Congress for enacting legislation that will turn the tide in our battle to save lives and significantly reduce the smoking rate among children and adults. Too many lives have been cut short by the cycle of addiction. Nearly one-third of heart disease and stroke deaths are linked to tobacco use, the nation’s leading preventable cause of death. We’re pleased that the tobacco industry will now be held accountable for a health crisis that’s largely the result of irresponsible marketing campaigns and deceptive business practices. With this new law, we are in a stronger position to provide lifesaving information to consumers and keep cigarettes out of the hands of children."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Smoke-free Society?

From former American Heart Association CEO Dudley Hafner...
"What is a smoke free society? In 1987 or thereabouts, Surgeon General Everett Koop challenged the AHA, ACS and ALA to deliver a smoke free society, but more specifically he challenged our organizations to graduate a smoke free class of high school seniors by the year 2000. With the passage of the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act” who is to say that we can’t someday reach that goal. Maybe it is a little over reaching. However after languishing around a 26% smoking rate for the last several years I suggest that with the new FSPTC act, continued aggressive education and public policy we could see a smoking rate as low as 5% in a generation or two. Any bets?"

The President is slated to sign the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act into law tomorrow(Monday) afternoon! What a remarkable day for the tobacco control movement! Visit http://www.heartprescription.org/ to thank lawmakers for passing this life-saving legislation.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More Reflections from Cass Wheeler

"One of the most significant things to happen to the tobacco control movement was in the mid 90s when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation decided to enter the fray and was willing to make a multi million dollar financial commitment annually over many years. This funding resulted in the formation of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and a broader coalition. It was also in the 90s that Mississippi filed suit against the industry to recover costs they had incurred in Medicaid payments as a result of tobacco use. Other states began to follow suit resulting in the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) with the tobacco industry and the largest financial transaction is the history of the world—236 billion dollars. It was in the spring of 1998 that parts of the MSA , including FDA regulation, were discussed on the floor of the US Senate for 4-5 weeks. This was the longest debate in the Senate since civil rights legislation in the 60s. FDA regulation lost by 2 votes in the Senate.

The next phase was the FDA looking at the statutes and determining that they actually had authority to regulate anything that altered the state of the body and that nicotine did exactly that. Of course, the industry filed suit and it ultimately went to the Supreme Court and the industry won by a 5-4 vote with the court stating that Congress needed to grant the FDA authority. So, since we were thwarted at the federal level we took the fight locally, advocating for clean indoor air laws at the local and state levels and fighting for increased excise taxes. Many of you have been a part of these victories and you changed the landscape and created a tipping point. As these laws became more prevalent, it became easier to make our case in Washington. Nothing happens at the federal level without a strong grassroots movement and that’s what you provided. It wouldn’t have happened had you not changed the environment locally and then made your voice heard in DC. What you do locally makes a huge difference.

The single greatest cause of preventable death in the U.S. is tobacco use—440,000 deaths a year. Now for the first time in the history of this country we have a level playing field and no longer will we allow the industry to prey on our kids and addict them. Remember, 88% of current smokers became addicted as underage youth and the industry’s own documents indicate that they implemented strategies to market to kids as young as 11. That will now come to an end and each of you has been a part of making the world a better place. My thanks to all of you."

Stay tuned for more from former AHA CEOs Cass Wheeler and Dudley Hafner over the next few days...

While we look ahead to the President's bill signing on Monday, take a moment to thank Members of Congress who voted to pass this life-saving legislation. Visit http://www.heartprescription.org/ to send your email.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Rest of the Story from Dudley Hafner...

Following on yesterday's post... here's more from Dudley Hafner.

"In the early eighties the landscape changed.

The health agencies learned to work together. The staffs became more skilled and were sought after by Congressmen and their staff for advice. A few victories came our way such as higher tobacco taxes, restrictions on advertising and improvements in cigarette warning labels. But the big prize was escaping us, FDA control of tobacco. The idea was first put forward by Scott Ballin who at the time was a legislative staffer in the AHA Washington office. The idea was embraced by staff of all three organizations but got little traction on the Hill. In fact we were not getting much forward movement until two very significant events occurred. The first was the studies on second hand smoke which made clear that non smokers were victims and deserved protection. And the second was Robert Wood Johnson’s decision to invest in the anti tobacco movement. Here the American Heart Association played a significant role. Our organization at RWJ’s request pledged the first seed money that created “Tobacco Free Kids”. In turn AHA approached ALA and ACS to become active participants. With ACS and AHA pledging funds RWJ then invested several million dollars over a multi year period. Robert Wood Johnson next created the Smokeless States Program which also required the close co-operation of the major voluntary health organizations plus some additional agencies such as state and county health departments, county medical societies and Non Smokers Rights groups. I chaired the Smokeless States Group for 8 years and watched as many small and large successes began to impact public attitude. Victories in point of sale, carding, clean indoor air, tax increases were having an effect. Smoking rates which had started at a slow decline in the late 1960s were now at about 26% down from a high of over 50%. However, smoking rates now appeared to have leveled off. We seemed to be down to the hard core addicts, certainly not the smoke free society that Dr. Everett Koop had as a goal.

But it depends were you sit. The Tobacco Industry was seeing declining consumption, fewer friends willing to speak up in Congress, increasing onerous regulations at the state and community level, and increasing law suits. In December of 1996 Matt Myers of “Tobacco Free Kids” received a call. The States Attorney Generals wanted his guidance in working through a settlement with the major US tobacco companies. Matt contacted the leadership of ACS, AHA and the AMA and for the next five months we served as an advisory group to the discussions. It was obvious that the health community was badly divided on the proposed settlement. This dissension affected the outcome in Congress a few months later. I retired near the end of 1997 and don’t have the details leading to the two vote loss in the Senate in 1998 which would have given FDA control of tobacco. I know that AHA leadership nearly pulled out a miracle. AHA, along with ACS and AMA almost healed a fractured health community, brought the mostly hostile Tobacco Industry to an embarrassing stand still and came close to winning the support in a Congress that had been happy to leave things just the way they had been for the last 200 years. Thanks to determined leadership on the part of the AHA and others- what started as Heart staffers’ concept in the late 1980s finally became a reality in 2009. Congratulations to all who worked so hard the last 11 years to get what we missed in 1998. Thank you for a healthier America. "

Stay tuned for more from former AHA CEOs Dudley Hafner and Cass Wheeler over the next few days...

While we look ahead to the President's bill signing, take a moment to thank Members of Congress who voted to pass this life-saving legislation. Visit http://www.heartprescription.org/ to send your email.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reflections from the long road to tobacco regulation

As we wait for President Obama to sign the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, it would be impossible not to look back over the years and decades of work that led to this historic victory.

Two former American Heart Association CEO's, Dudley Hafner and Cass Wheeler, have agreed to share their reflections on this blog. Both men were instrumental in tobacco control efforts and I think you'll enjoy their insiders' perspective.

Dudley Hafner: "In 1964 my boss and I could have flown to Los Angles for a meeting of the American Cancer Society (my first employer in the health community). Instead we took the train from San Antonio to LA so that we could isolate and study Surgeon General Luther Terry’s newly released report titled “Smoking or Health”. The committee and the report had literally been under armed security until its release the week before. Until this report we had only a few giants such as Alton Oshsner to encourage us to attack the Tobacco Industry and its defenders in Congress and in state capitals. Now we had the science needed to start building programs. Unfortunately, it was not until 1980 that the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association realized and accepted their organizations responsibility to go outside traditional community education and research to become fully engaged in the legislative/political process. Up until that time it was considered unseemly for volunteer organizations to be out front on legislative issues. "

Cass Wheeler: "What an amazing accomplishment that we finally have tobacco regulated to the same level as orange juice, but it’s been a long time coming and a hard fought battle. The fight actually began in the 1960s when the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association recognized the adverse health affects of tobacco use. Our primary tool at that time was education, and we launched a full scale anti smoking educational program is schools across the country. It was in the late 60s that tobacco ads were prohibited on television. The fight went on in this David and Goliath fashion for many years. Our approach was to save one life at a time. That began to change in the late seventies, as I recall, when it was demonstrated that a significant increase in excise taxes would reduce consumption particularly among youth. So, we recognized that we could affect behavior change with something other than education, and advocacy became another arrow in our quiver. In 1980 we recognized that we needed to formalize our partnership with the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association and thus was born the Coalition on Smoking or Health and our first director was Matt Myers who is now the CEO of Tobacco Free Kids. We learned a lot about working together and trying to speak with one voice. "

Stay tuned for more from Cass and Dudley over the next few days...

While we look ahead to the President's bill signing, take a moment to thank Members of Congress who voted to pass this life-saving legislation. Visit http://www.heartprescription.org/ to send your email.

Friday, June 12, 2009

FDA Regulation of Tobacco Headed to the President!!

The US House of Representatives today passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act 307-97!

On the heels of yesterday’s Senate passage, this vote clears the way for the bill to go on to President Obama for his signature. Though no date has been set for that signing, the President has indicated his support and that he will indeed sign the bill. Speaker Pelosi suggested on the floor today that it could occur next week.

This is a monumental victory for public health advocates!

The bill will:
  • restrict the flood of advertising aimed at enticing our children into a lifetime of tobacco addiction
  • require the tobacco companies to disclose the ingredients in their products
  • require stronger and more prominent warnings about the health risks of smoking
  • help reduce the number of deaths from heart disease and stroke caused by tobacco use!
  • finally put tobacco products under the same scrutiny as mac n' cheese, make-up, dog food, and nearly every other consumer product on the market!

You can send an email to thank supportive lawmakers at http://www.heartprescription.org/!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

US Senate Approves FDA Regulation of Tobacco

In a historic vote, the US Senate today passed legislation that would finally give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products and marketing. The vote was an overwhelming 79-17 in favor of the legislation! This is a remarkable victory!

Dedicated advocates have been working on this legislation for more than a decade, and today, a major hurdle was cleared. Many thanks to all of you who have written, called, emailed and met with your Senators on this important issue over the years. Please take a moment to savor today's victory!

Read AHA CEO Nancy Brown's statement on today's historic passage.

Despite alarming statistics about the death and disease caused by tobacco use, the tobacco industry has remained largely unregulated for far too long. This bill will finally allow the FDA to restrict the tobacco industry's deceitful marketing practices aimed at enticing our children into a lifetime of tobacco addiction. The bill will also require tobacco companies to disclose the ingredients in their products, and it will require larger, stronger warning labels- among many other provisions.

Tobacco addiction brings with it a significant increase in the risk of heart disease and stroke. About 150,000 Americans die every year from cardiovascular disease caused by smoking. This bill will finally help us reduce the toll of tobacco on American families.

We applaud the US Senate on today's passage of this life-saving legislation. The bill passed today still must be reconciled with the House version passed earlier this year, and then it will go on the President for his signature. President Obama has said he'll sign the bill when it is passed, so stay tuned for updates.

We look forward to celebrating that moment with all of you! Today, we send thanks and congratulations your way!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

House Passes the Josh Miller HEARTS Act

Today, the US House of Representatives passed the Josh Miller HEARTS Act! This step forward was in large part thanks to the You’re the Cure advocates who contacted their legislators to urge their support.

The Josh Miller HEARTS Act was prompted by the tragic death of a 15-year old high school student who suffered sudden cardiac arrest at school. It recognizes the importance of providing schools with the equipment and training necessary to save the lives of children and adults in the education community as part of an overall medical emergency response plan through the establishment of a grant program.

The bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate soon, so stay tuned for opportunities to act to help see it through the Senate and on to final passage.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Senate to Consider FDA Regulation of Tobacco

Committed public health advocates have been working for more than a decade to secure FDA authority to regulate tobacco products and marketing. With the US Senate slated to consider legislation this week that would grant the FDA that authority , we're closer than ever before to seeing this become a reality!

Did you know that more than 3,500 kids smoke their first cigarette EVERY DAY? It's time for Senators to act on behalf of America's children, protecting them from tobacco use and the increased risk of heart disease and stroke that comes with it.

With your help, this bill has already passed the House of Representatives this year by a huge majority. If we can persuade the Senate to pass it- Congress will be very close to sending the bill to the President for his signature.

Support from advocates like you has gotten us this far. Now, help us cross the finish line! Contact your Senators today and ask them to vote YES for our kids!