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April 7, 2018

...BUT WILL DO LITTLE TO CUT SMOKING, ADVOCATES SAY

 

As part of a larger tax bill, the Kentucky General Assembly voted April 2 to increase the state’s cigarette tax by 50 cents, to $1.10 per pack. That fell short of the $1 increase wanted by health The increase is estimated to generate about $132 million in 2019, and decline to $112 million in 2020, apparently on the fact that smokers are dying off and a belief that the tax hike will make some of them quit.The increase is estimated to generate about $132 million in 2019, and decline to $112 million in 2020, apparently on the fact that smokers are dying off and a belief that the tax hike will make some of them quit.advocates, who bemoaned “a missed opportunity” to improve the health of Kentuckians. And in the final hours, legislative leaders dropped a plan to tax electronic cigarettes.

Still, the advocates said the tax increase is historic.

“It’s the biggest increase in Kentucky history, and there is something to be said for that,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “Having said that, I think it’s apparent to anybody who knows anything about this that it’s not going to get the health benefits that we had been seeking . . . and that’s a missed opportunity.”

And that’s “a huge understatement,” said Amy Barkley, a regional advocacy director for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “They voted for a tax increase that is just a tax increase,” she told Kentucky Health News after a news conference with Chandler.

Barkley’s group is part of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, a group of more than 150 organizations chaired by Chandler. It argued that unless the price of a pack of cigarettes goes up by at least $1, tobacco companies can keep smokers hooked by giving discounts to retailers and coupons to consumers, and then gradually raise the price to make up the difference.

Chandler said the “price shock” of a $1 increase would have led to more than “50,000 people here in Kentucky either quitting or not starting.”

At 26 percent, Kentucky has the second highest smoking rate in the country. It also has the nation’s highest cancer rate, and cancer death rate. Chandler has often said that this is not a coincidence, since 34 percent of Kentucky’s cancer deaths are related to smoking.

“We are the cancer capital of this country and we’ve got to do something about it. . . . and I think every method available ought to be on the table to try to do that,” he said.

Despite the coalition’s lobbying and a recent poll that found nearly 70 percent of registered voters would support a $1 cigarette-tax increase, a 50 cent hike was the best the lawmakers could do. After the House passed it, the Senate rejected it, but after the House passed a surprise pension-reform bill, the Senate accepted the tax as part of a package of tax cuts and increases.

“We failed to make our case, or Philip Morris made theirs better,” Barkley said. The Altria Group subsidiary’s chief state-government lobbyist met with top legislative leaders in an effort to make sure the tax didn’t include smokeless tobacco (made in an Altria plant in Hopkinsville) or electronic cigarettes, in which the company has invested.

“It’s really discouraging, to say the least, that legislators continually yield to the tobacco industry, which we know no longer fights for no tobacco increase,” Barkley said. “They fight for a low tobacco increase that they can manage by doing the discounting and so forth.”

One version of the tax bill included a 15 percent tax on electronic cigarettes, which are now more popular among teenagers than cigarettes, but was removed before the final vote. — apparently not long before, because the list of effective dates for various provisions mentioned both cigarettes and e-cigarettes. One clause in the bill excludes e-cigs from the definition of cigarettes.

John Cox, spokesman for Senate Republican leaders, declined to say why the late changes were made, and Philip Morris declined to comment. Rudy didn’t return an e-mail seeking comment.

The tax measure, House Bill 366, narrowly passed the Senate 20-18 and out of the House 51-44, with no Democrats voting for it. Its main sponsor, House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, said during his April 2 floor pitch that the 50-cent tax hike on cigarettes would improve Kentuckians’ health.

The increase is estimated to generate about $132 million in 2019, and decline to $112 million in 2020, apparently on the fact that smokers are dying off and a belief that the tax hike will make some of them quit.

Asked if a 50 cent hike was better than nothing, Chandler said the foundation’s view is that “It is better than zero,” but also said there are differences of opinion inside the coalition.

For example, Barkley said in an email, “Nothing would have been better from a health standpoint because we have lost our chance. They aren’t going to raise it by $1 or more so soon after the 50 cents.”

Chandler said the coalition and the foundation would keep working for a higher tax. “We don’t believe that it’s over because that’s not been the history of the cigarette tax in Kentucky,” he said, noting that this is the third time the cigarette tax has been raised since the last 20 years. “I don’t think it’s accurate to say that once you’ve had an increase somehow it’s over.”

Chandler said the foundation supports the increase because it raises revenue, which is often spent on things that improve “social determinants of health,” like providing school transportation. “It’s a good thing for health to have added revenue,” he said.

He said the foundation will also continue to work on tobacco-cessation efforts and “ramping up our efforts” on local smoke-free policies.

This is the first year the foundation has actively lobbied. Tom Loftus of the Louisville Courier Journal reported the foundation was the second-largest spender on lobbying for the first two months of the session, at $107,336, and that Altria spent “far more” than any other lobby, spending $156,000.

Asked why the foundation had made a shift to lobbying, Chandler said, “We believe that you can make a bigger impact on health through getting the government to act in certain ways, and adopt certain policies to get their people to be healthy, than you can by simply making grants and through solely philanthropic efforts. . . . We believe that we can have an outsize impact, we can punch above our weight if we are active in public policy matters.”

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

 

March 26, 2016

Celebrate the great work of practitioners, educators...

By Jay Miller and Ann Vail


University of Kentucky

March is designated Social Work Month. Since the 1960s, this month has been marked as a time to celebrate the significant work of social work practitioners, educators, researchers and students.
Social work has a rich and storied history. The foundational impact of Jane Adams’ Hull House, and Mary Richmond’s Charity Organization Societies has reverberated through the decades. The pioneering legacies of social workers like Dorothy Height and Kentucky native Whitney Young, Jr. continue to positively shape people’s lives. These early influences engendered a profession committed to ethical standards and competent practice, with a vision of a just world for all persons.

Today, as has been the case historically, social workers provide services germane to healthy, safe and well-functioning communities. Whilst mostly unheralded and sometimes misunderstood, social workers are a central component of societal well-being. In countless ways, social workers activate our primary mission “to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”

In fulfilling our mission, social workers are at the forefront of addressing many of the inimical social ills plaguing society. Whether dealing with the substance misuse epidemic plaguing parts of Northern and Eastern Kentucky, the effects of the tragic school shooting in Marshall County, or the deleterious violence plaguing Kentucky cities, social workers are educated and trained to adeptly respond to and assuage the impact of these problematic circumstances. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a professional human service not impacted by social work.
Social work professionals are employed in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, veterans’ centers and mental health agencies, among other settings. Social workers use a broad range of skills, consistent core values, and systemic knowledge to fulfill varied roles, including advocacy, therapy and administration. Moreover, social workers are at the helm of some of Kentucky’s venerable service institutions, such as the Center for Women and Families, Volunteers of America-Mid-States, and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Lexington, to name a few.
Furthermore, social work educational programs at the state’s colleges and universities are conducting cutting-edge research aimed at ameliorating social problems, thus, improving the social conditions that impact individuals’ lives.

Today, social work, as a profession, remains steadfastly committed to its mission. And perhaps now, more than ever, our society needs this commitment. In an era of divisiveness and uncertainty, people can find solace in the fact that social workers continue to advocate, broker and serve the most vulnerable among us. Assuredly, the resolve of social work endures. 

So now, we issue a clarion call to all Kentuckians: Take time to celebrate and honor the work and contributions of social workers – not just this month, but every month. Because, although the months may change, social workers will continue to steadfastly answer the call to meet the needs of Kentuckians, strengthen our communities and “enhance human well-being.”

 

March 20, 2018

Dirty needles litter the playground... So these Kentucky students invented a solution and won $50,000

Students at Ashland Middle School demonstrate how to pick up used needles with the device they invented. (Photo by Will Wright Lexington Herald Leader)Students at Ashland Middle School demonstrate how to pick up used needles with the device they invented. (Photo by Will Wright Lexington Herald Leader)

ASHLAND - In Boyd County, where staff at a local elementary school must search the playgrounds every day for dirty heroin needles, a group of middle school students decided to take action.

Students at Ashland Middle School invented a device that allows people to pick up dirty needles without getting stuck — and their invention has already landed the Eastern Kentucky school $50,000 in prizes.

The students said they did not have money on their minds when they started the project, though. They just wanted to help keep their younger siblings safe from a dangerous side-effect of Kentucky’s opioid abuse crisis. 

“We have little brothers and sisters, and we don’t want them to come in contact with needles,” said Aubree Hay, a student who worked on the project. “Kids, they don’t know any better to not pick up a needle.”

The project, entered in the Samsung Solve For Tomorrow contest, won first place in the statewide Kentucky competition, and the students will head to New York City in April to compete for the national $100,000 prize.

The school won $50,000 in Samsung technology for its first-place performance at the state level, and could win an additional $20,000 if its project collects the most votes in an online Samsung poll.

The idea began last fall with Ashland police officer Troy Patrick, who serves as the school’s resource officer.

Patrick pitched the idea of creating an invention to pick up needles to Ashland Middle School science and technology teacher Mike Polley, after community groups said they wanted to volunteer to pick up dirty needles around town.

Student Shaela Taylor holds the device which allows people to safely pick up dirty heroin needles. (Photo by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader)Student Shaela Taylor holds the device which allows people to safely pick up dirty heroin needles. (Photo by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader)

“They’re talking about using spaghetti tongs and pliers and stuff to pick these things up,” Patrick said. “Without proper training for picking up a needle, it could be a bad thing.”

Patrick said the dangers of picking up used needles is two-fold: the sharp point could puncture skin and leave the victim at risk of contracting diseases such as Hepatitis C or HIV; and residue left on the barrel of the syringe from the powerful opioid carfentanil, which drug dealers sometime mix with heroin to create a more potent cocktail, could seep through a person’s skin and into the bloodstream.

“They took off and ran with it,” Patrick said. “They went leaps and bounds over what I proposed.”

Finding dirty needles around town is common.

At Crabbe Elementary School in Ashland, Principal Jamie Campbell said he and his staff have found 18 used needles on their two playgrounds this school year.

“Thankfully we haven’t had any student be injured by that, but one would be too many,” said Campbell, who has two sons at Ashland Middle School who worked on the project. “That would be the most heartbreaking phone call that I think I would ever have to make.”

Every morning, staff at Crabbe Elementary scan the playgrounds to find dirty needles before the children do.

“We shouldn’t have to risk that with children in our community,” said Isaac Campbell, a student who worked on the project. “We really wanted to help people, that was the main point.”

When the Ashland Middle School students heard about the project last fall, they immediately began to brainstorm a device that would help people safely pick up the dangerous needles.

In the end, after many test-runs and trial-by-error prototypes, they landed on a hollow plastic box, a few inches longer than a needle and about 3 inches wide, with one of the walls replaced with plastic teeth.

If a needle is lying in the grass at a playground at Crabbe Elementary, a custodian would place the box on top of the needle, squeeze, and the box would safely picks up the dirty needle.

The students produced the product with 3D printers from their school, and also created a smaller version that can fit inside an evidence tube for police investigations.

The students said they hope the product will eventually be patented and mass-produced.

Aubree, one of the students, said she hopes the project will help prove that Eastern Kentucky is home to people who are working hard to help alleviate some of the region’s problems.

“Our area, it’s often stereotyped to be unhealthy, uneducated and drug addicts,” Aubree said. “We’re trying to overcome those stereotypes and make our community a better place.”

The students also created an online database that people can use to report where they have spotted dirty needles. The students hope police and other public safety officials will use the database as part of an effort to collect those needles.

When asked if any of the students had a personal connection to the opioid crisis, student Eric Billups said “I think there’s a story just about all of us have to tell about that.”

In Boyd County last year, EMS services responded to 326 heroin overdoses, according to Boyd County EMS director Charles Cremeans.

The students also plan to speak at elementary schools to talk about the dangers of picking up dirty needles.

“I think it’ll help the kindergarteners and the elementary schoolers when we present to them because we’re kids, and it’s not just an adult telling them not to do something,” Aubree said. “This really happens. We could find a needle really anywhere.”


By Will Wright
Lexington Herald-Leader

 See complete story with video HERE

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