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Alabama Examines Tobacco Control Efforts

Last month, the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Alabama held its quarterly meeting at the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham to learn about the latest tobacco control data for Alabama and to discuss the progress and direction of the state coalition.  Members include smokefree advocates, public policy experts and public health officials.

“Today’s meeting was about the progress and work that lies ahead in Alabama,” said Coalition Chair, Ashley Lyerly Director of Public Policy, American Lung Association of the Southeast, “With the recent passage of the Gadsden Smokefree Ordinance [in June], residents and workers in 27 municipalities will be protected by comprehensive smokefree protections. The members of the Coalition for Tobacco Free Alabama at today’s meeting are a big part of the progress being made in Alabama; however, many workers and residents are still left unprotected from the dangers of secondhand smoke.”

The Coalition for a Tobacco Free Alabama is an organization whose goal is to achieve a tobacco free society. Learn more at www.tobaccofreealabama.org or check us out on Facebook at Tobacco Free Alabama.  

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Healthy Food Access Campaign Makes Progress in Alabama

Recently, policy experts, healthy food supporters and grassroots advocates from a wide variety of organizations attended a Healthy Food Access Campaign training and planning session sponsored by VOICES for Alabama’s Children and the American Heart Association in Montgomery.  As an outcome of the meeting, we now have a Letter of Support we’d like you to sign.

Click here to express your support for increasing Alabamians’ access to affordable healthy foods in underserved areas. 

We understand this issue can be a lot to digest. So, we invite you to check out this excellent op-ed by Melanie R. Bridgeforth, MSW, Executive Director for VOICES for Alabama’s Children, that explains the issue more in depth.  Here’s a quick excerpt: 

I take my neighborhood grocery store for granted. There are three of them within a mile of my home. If one of those stores happens to be out of an item that I need for dinner that night, I can make a second stop without breaking a sweat.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for more than one million Alabamians, including 245,000 children, there are no grocery stores down the street. There are no neighborhood markets next door either. In fact, for many of these families, there are no grocery stores across town. They live in what are known as food deserts --- areas where it is difficult to buy healthy and affordable foods. Food deserts are more than an unfortunate inconvenience.

We hope you’ll take the first step in the Healthy Food Access Campaign today! 

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Smokefree Efforts Spread across Alabama

On June 10, 2014 the Gadsden City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the City of Gadsden Smokefree Air Ordinance. The ordinance creates smokefree public areas in the city including bars and lounges, and set limits for how close to public entrances smoking would be allowed. The ordinance will go into effect on January 1, 2015. Read more in this Gadsden Times article and stay updated on local efforts via Facebook.

Right now, serious conversations also are taking place in Montgomery about the effects of secondhand smoke. If you live in Montgomery, here are some ways you can help:

  • Join the conversation on Facebook
  • Attend the June 19th Addiction Inc. Screening Social at ASU's Hardy Center; click here to RSVP
  • Invite a representative of the Smokefree Montgomery campaign to attend your community organization or neighborhood association event; contact Stephanie Christie at smokefreemontgomery@heart.org

As you can tell, exciting smokefree work is taking place in our communities to protect residents from the hazards of secondhand smoke - and we're counting on You're the Cure advocates to help!

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Alabama Makes Progress in Children's Health

Schools across the country have been working hard to meet updated nutrition standards and Alabama ranks among the states seeing success according to a new study published in Childhood Obesity.

In a recent article in The Montgomery Advertiser, June Barrett, who oversees the Child Nutrition Program through the Alabama State Department of Education, said "I feel, due to our efforts since 2005, we have seen a reduction in childhood obesity in our state. The steps we have taken to improve nutrition quality are assisting in reducing obesity for the state of Alabama. There are areas of improvements, and I hope we continue evaluating the nutrition standards to assist our children to meet healthy lifestyle goals." 

Alabama has been fighting childhood obesity since 2005 and was ranked in the F as in Fat report as having the most obese high school students in the nation in 2011.

Although progress has been made, much more remains to be done. Last month, policy experts, health food and grassroots advocates from a wide variety of organizations joined VOICES for Alabama’s Children and the American Heart Association in Birmingham to kick off the Alabama Healthy Food Financing Campaign. The campaign will focus on increasing access to affordable healthy foods to all Alabamians. The American Heart Association continues to support the nutritional standards put in place by the 2012 Healthy, Hunger-Free Act. The national school lunch, breakfast, and competitive foods nutrition standards are essential to heart health, teaching life-long healthy habits, and helping children perform better academically- and there is strong evidence that the new standards are making a difference.

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Alabama Kicks Off Healthy Food Financing Campaign!

The American Heart Association and VOICES for Alabama’s Children co-hosted the Alabama Healthy Food Financing Campaign Kick Off on Tuesday, May 13 in Birmingham.  The event was a huge success with over 60 people in attendance.  Event speakers included Kim Milbrath, Voices for Healthy Kids; Brian Lang, The Food Trust; Graham Champion, Public Strategies, LLC; Katherine Bryant, American Heart Association; and Melanie Bridegforth, VOICES for Alabama’s Children.  

Participants learned about gaining access to affordable healthy foods in underserved areas.  We are excited about the enthusiasm surrounding this issue and will keep you updated as we move forward.  A special thanks to Darryl Griffin, Metro VP for the American Heart Association, and his team for their amazing hospitality!

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Improving Food Access in Alabama

On Tuesday, May 13, the American Heart Association will host a kick-off event with VOICES for Alabama's Children for individuals and organizations interested in improving food access in under served areas across Alabama.  The free event will be held from 11 am - 1 pm at the American Heart Association's Birmingham office. 

During kick-off the event, participants will have the opportunity to learn how healthy food financing can improve access to healthy foods; hear stories from folks who have worked on the issue in neighboring states; discuss next steps for healthy food access in Alabama; and join a community of advocates working for healthy change.  

RSVP by Friday, May 9 at gsa.advocacy@heart.org

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It's a Wrap!

The 2014 Alabama Legislative Session ended on April 3 and overall proved to be quiet for the American Heart Association.  But, when a weak smoke-free bill started moving through the legislative process, we stepped up to the plate and protected the health of Alabamians thanks to the help of You're the Cure advocates and coalition partners.

Here are several outcomes to note:

  • Statewide Smoke-Free Bill (Senate Bill 168) – The American Heart Association worked with coalition partners to defeat Senate Bill 168, weak legislation supported by the tobacco industry.  The bill failed to offer comprehensive protections by exempting employees and patrons in bars, cigar bars and tobacco retail shops; it also exempted e-cigarettes.  The American Heart Association will continue to urge the State Legislature to join 24 states to pass a comprehensive smoke-free law that protects employees and residents from the dangers of secondhand smoke in all workplaces.
  • Healthy Food Access (House Resolution 261) – House Resolution 261 passed which recognizes the intense problem that food deserts have become in the State of Alabama.  The resolution calls on all state leaders to improve access to healthy foods for Alabamians, which will be an important issue to the American Heart Association moving forward.  We’ll keep you posted as lawmakers work on bringing grocery stores and other healthy food options to all Alabamians.    
  • Medicaid Expansion in Alabama – As of today, Governor Robert Bentley has made a firm statement that he will not expand a broken Medicaid system in Alabama. Dr. Donald Williamson, the Alabama State Health Officer and Act Medicaid Transition Chairman, has advised Bentley that it would make sense for Alabama to expand the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.  Several studies have also come out of universities in Alabama about the positive economic impact expansion would have.   With 2014 being an election year and with the growing influence of the Tea Party, some folks feel as if the Governor MIGHT announce that with the changes that have been made he is considering expanding Medicaid after the election season.  Time will tell.

Moving forward, we plan to lay the ground work on healthy food access and to continue supporting local smoke-free ordinances.  Stay tuned for You're the Cure alerts on how you can help! 

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A Heartfelt Thanks

Each year, we like to pause and give thanks during National Volunteer Week (April 6th-12th) for the amazing contributions of volunteers like you.  We know you have a choice when deciding which organization to dedicate your time and talents to and we’re honored you’ve chosen to contribute to the American Heart Association’s mission.  Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to meet many You’re the Cure advocates in person to say ‘thanks’, but since getting together isn’t always possible, I wanted to share this special video highlighting the progress you’ve made possible.

(Please visit the site to view this video) 

You’ll see we are making strides to create smoke-free communities across the country, develop the next generation of life-savers trained in CPR, and ensure all students have healthy meal choices in schools.  The effort you’ve made to contact your lawmakers, share your story, and spread the word through your social networks have led to those successes and more. In fact, in just the last eight months, You’re the Cure advocates have helped contacted local, state, and federal lawmakers more than 140,000 times and it’s these messages that can lead to policy wins.

So take a moment to pat yourself on the back and enjoy a job well done!  I look forward to continuing our efforts to pursue policy changes that will help build healthier communities and healthier lives for all Americans. We couldn’t do it without you – thanks!

- Clarissa

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Alabama's Legislative Breakfast in Red Was a Success!

On February 13, 2014 many women of the Alabama Legislature joined the American Heart Association and representatives from state level organizations for the 2nd annual Legislative Breakfast in Red at the State House.  Senator Vivian Figures, Senate Minority Leader, chaired the well-attended event with presentations from stroke systems of care champions, Senator Linda Coleman and Dr. Stephen Suggs.  Participants spoke about how to promote behavioral and policy changes to fight heart disease, the No. 1 killer of Alabamians. Click here to read more about heart disease.

Tell us. Do you know your risk factors for heart disease?

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Will Weak Alabama Smoke-Free Bill Go Down in Flames?

A smoke-free bill that leaves many workers unprotected from secondhand smoke is gaining momentum at the State House.  Senate Bill 168 by Senator Vivian Figures has passed the Senate and headed to the House Health Committee. 

In its current form, the bill is supported by the Tobacco Industry and fails to offer comprehensive protection.  Employees and patrons in bars, cigar bars and tobacco retail shops are exempt.  Also exempt are e-cigarettes for which there is no clear science about the health impact of vapor from the product. 

Alabama legislators need to pass a clean bill that protects all workers from secondhand smoke, a risk factor for heart disease, cancer and many other illnesses.  If Senate Bill 168 passes, many legislators may think the fight for smoke-free workplaces is over, that their work on the issue is done.  This would leave thousands of Alabamans unprotected from the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Update: On Wednesday, March 12, the House Health Committee voted 7-4 against the bill.  Stay tuned for how you can help keep the fight going for a 100% smoke-free Alabama.

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