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The Latest News on #SmokefreeEBR

On April 13, 2016, the East Baton Rouge Metro council failed to pass the proposed smoke-free ordinance, denying more than 3,000 workers the right to breathe clean air and leaving Baton Rouge as one of the largest cities in the country without a smoke-free ordinance that includes all workplaces and public places, including bars and casinos. The 2½-hour debate about the pros and cons of banning smoking at casinos and bars culminated with the Metro Council splitting the vote 6-6. Nearly 40 people addressed the council about the issue, imploring the council members to think about health, morality, fiscal responsibility and the business climate of the parish.

Metro Council members Chandler Loupe, Ryan Heck, Scott Wilson, Trae Welch, Buddy Amoroso and John Delgado voted against the ordinance. Voting in favor were its sponsors: Tara Wicker, Donna Collins-Lewis, Erika Green, Chauna Banks-Daniel, LaMont Cole and Joel Boé. None of the council members who voted against the ordinance explained during the meeting why they did so.

Smoke Free East Baton Rouge is a broad coalition of organizations, including the American Heart Association, spearheading the effort to protect all employees, musicians and entertainers in bars and casinos from the dangers of secondhand smoke. The group is committed to continuing support for smoke-free workplaces for everyone who lives in EBR.

Thank you to You’re the Cure advocates who called and emailed council members, participated in community events, and attended last night’s city council meeting.

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Welcome New Louisiana Gov. Relations Director

The American Heart Association is happy to announce that Ashley Bridges is the new Louisiana Government Relations Director.

Ashley has been a dedicated volunteer for quite some time. She has participated in the Capital Area’s Go Red For Women fashion show and is a former state advocacy committee member. She has been working with the smoke free coalition in East Baton Rouge Parish on their efforts to strengthen the local smoke free ordinance. Professionally, Ashley has worked with the Capitol Region Planning Commission as a Regional Transportation Safety Coordinator. Her work with the Planning Commission included everything from working to form coalitions to working on Complete Streets programs. Ashley also served as a legislative analyst with the Louisiana House of Representatives and an assistant with former Speaker Jim Tucker.

Ashley received her bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in sociology and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Louisiana State University. She is based in Baton Rouge and can be reached at Ashley.Bridges@heart.org.

Please join us in welcoming Ashley to the American Heart Association!

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Gov. Edwards Approves Tobacco Tax

On Tuesday, Gov. Edwards signed House Bill 14 into law. The legislation will increase the tobacco tax from 86-cents per pack to $1.08 per pack, which is higher than the one in Mississippi and lower than the ones in Texas and Arkansas.

This is not a victory for public health or the economy of Louisiana. The low tobacco tax increase will not:

  • Encourage adults to quit smoking
  • Deter our youth from starting the unhealthy habit
  • Lower health care costs
  • Generate $200 million annually for our state

Thank you to all You're the Cure advocates who called and emailed lawmakers throughout special session, in support of a significant tobacco tax increase. Majority of Louisiana voters of all party affiliations strongly support raising the state’s cigarette tax by $1.25 a pack as a smart solution to close the state’s serious budget shortfall, while saving lives and health care dollars.

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The healthy difference a month can make

March is Nutrition Month, and a perfect time to get more involved with the AHA’s ongoing efforts to promote science-based food and nutrition programs that help reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Every day, we’re seeing new initiatives: to make fruits and vegetables more affordable; to reduce the number of sugar-sweetened beverages that our kids are drinking; and of course, to ensure students are getting the healthiest school meals possible, all with the same goal: to help families across the country lead the healthiest lives they possibly can.

It’s also a great opportunity to lower your sodium intake. The average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day – more than twice the AHA-recommended amount. Excessive sodium consumption has been shown to lead to elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Visit www.heart.org/sodium for tips on to lower your intake and to get heart-healthy recipes.

However you choose to celebrate, Nutrition Month gives us all the chance to take control of our diets; to recommit to eating fresh, healthy foods; and to remember all month long that you’re the cure.

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Sheron Lee, Hammond

Guest Blogger: Sheron Lee

I am a second generation American Heart Association volunteer; you could say it’s in my genes. In the early 1980s, my dad had open heart surgery in Houston, Texas with Dr. DeBakey from Lake Charles looking on. My parents began a Mended Hearts Chapter in Lake Charles, La. after his surgery. My dad would speak to the patients and my mother would speak to the caregivers. They were active volunteers until their age and health prevented them from their weekly visits to the hospital. I cannot even begin to count the number of lives they touched or the research they may have assisted in from the 1980’s through 2001.

My dad did not require any additional heart procedures and later died from cancer at the age of 83. My mother suffered a few strokes. She needed the assistance of a speech therapist to learn how to swallow her food. My sisters and I cared for her in her home. We became experts on protein shakes and proper liquid intake for Congestive Heart Failure patients. She also needed a pacemaker and then oxygen for her Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). She died at the age of 87 from COPD. It was during the last year of her care I began to notice symptoms of my own. I didn’t have time to be sick and I almost waited too late to help myself. I was definitely in denial.

In 2008, at the age of 50, I was headed for cardiac rehabilitation after two balloons and a stent. My heart was so out of shape, I could only exercise for eight minutes. I vowed to get myself in shape and never let this happen again. My six weeks of rehab ended and I continued on my own almost two years. My heart rate monitor was my new best friend. I dropped the extra pounds and have worked to keep them off. I consider myself an onset athlete. I have made lifestyle changes that are now simply habits. None of this was easy, especially in a state that celebrates every occasion with food, but I get it now. I understand why my parents worked so hard. I am already reaping the benefits of life saving stents and new medications that were only thoughts in the 1980’s. 

During my recovery, my diabetic husband had to have open heart surgery, just like both of his parents. I have been his caregiver through the surgery, ten stents and an ablation that have followed. His journey has proven more tedious because it now involves Medicare and many medications require additional authorizations from health care providers. We have become experts on Medicare appeals. We have learned a lot about our hearts and do everything we can to stay healthy because we can do nothing about our genetics.

I have volunteered with local American Heart Association since 2009. I assist with the Go Red For Women luncheon every year and the local Heart Walks, sometimes providing Zumba. I am a member of the Passion Committee which works toward continuing the mission of the American Heart Association with events throughout the year. I have helped as an advocate by sending emails to our elected officials on issues such as CPR for all high school graduates in the state of Louisiana.

I am blessed. I had parents that showed me how to live with heart disease and use my knowledge to help others. They taught me how to change the things you can and live life to the fullest with what you have been given. I hope to leave the same legacy to my children and grandchildren.

I work full time. I have been a certified Zumba instructor since 2014 and I teach at least two classes a week. I received two more stents in March of 2015. In October of 2015 I completed my sixth half marathon. I no longer consider myself a survivor, but a "thriver." 

I look forward to many more years of volunteer opportunities and doing my part to be part of the cure. After all, it’s in my genes!

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Louisiana Gov. Calls Special Session

On Feb. 5, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called the Louisiana Legislature into a special session to address the state’s budget shortfalls. Special session is slated to run Feb. 14 at 4 p.m. to March 9 at 6 p.m.

During these three weeks, we will work with Invest in a Healthy Louisiana to increase the state tobacco tax by $1.25. If successful, Louisiana will see: 

  • Reduction in the number of smoking-affected pregnancies and births: 3,800
  • Health care cost savings from fewer smoking-caused lung cancer cases: $5.9 million
  • Health care cost savings from fewer smoking-caused heart attacks & strokes: $13.3 mill
  • Medicaid program savings for the state: $8 million

As you may remember, Invest in a Healthy Louisiana is a coalition that comprises of numerous public health groups, including the American Heart Association, leading the effort to reduce the burden of tobacco use in Louisiana through an increase in the state’s tobacco tax. The coalition successfully obtained a 50-cent increase to the state’s tobacco tax last year, bumping the tax to 86-cents per pack; the national average is $1.61.

With Gov. Edwards calling a special session, we have another opportunity to make a true impact on the state’s budget deficit, and the overall public health of Louisianans. Stay tuned for You're the Cure alerts on how you can help.

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Advocates Push for Smoke-free Capital Area

Secondhand smoke is a major risk factor for heart disease, our state’s No. 1 killer. While the Louisiana Legislature eliminated smoking in most workplaces in 2007, they left thousands of employees, musicians and entertainers in bars and casinos unprotected from secondhand smoke. Now, smoke-free advocates in the Capital Area urge local lawmakers to ensure every worker in East Baton Rouge Parish has a healthy, smoke-free workplace. Read more on The Advocate.

To stay updated on the campaign, you can like the Smoke-free East Baton Rouge campaign on Facebook or follow it on Twitter.

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LA Gov. Takes First Step to Expand Medicaid

On his first full day in office, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards followed through on his promise to accept the federal funding to expand Medicaid. He signed an executive order calling for the state Department of Health and Hospitals to make the administrative changes needed to begin offering the health insurance coverage to the working poor.

The issue of increasing access to healthcare is important to the American Heart Association. Thousands of Louisianans face every day without the security of insurance. And for those with pre-existing heart conditions or who have suffered from stroke, each day is especially uncertain.

We can help more Louisianans take preventive action against heart disease and stroke by providing insurance for regular health care coverage, as opposed to expensive treatment in emergency rooms after their condition has worsened. Medicaid increases the use of recommended preventive care, and those with Medicaid were much more likely than people without insurance to have a regular source of care. For example:

  • Medicaid beneficiaries with heart disease are twice as likely to take their medication appropriately, compared to those who are uninsured.
  • Those with Medicaid coverage are more likely to have their blood pressure controlled, compared to the uninsured.
  • Those with Medicaid are 20 percent more likely to have been checked for high cholesterol, compared to the uninsured.

Ultimately, covering more people through Medicaid can help save lives and improve the lives of Louisianans. We will continue to advocate as this process unfolds in Louisiana.

You can read more about the executive order at ABCNews.com.

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Join us on National Wear Red Day, Friday, February 5

The American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women are asking for your support by participating in National Wear Red Day® on Friday, February 5, 2016 and donating to help fund research during American Health Month.

Why Go Red? Heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds.  Fortunately, we can change that because 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with education and action. That’s why this year we are asking that you wear red on National Wear Red Day® and donate to Go Red For Woman. By doing so you help support educational programs to increase women’s awareness and critical research to discover scientific knowledge about cardiovascular health. 

And don’t forget to make your heart health a priority. Schedule your Well-Woman Visit, a prevention check-up to review a woman’s overall health so her doctor can measure blood pressure, check cholesterol and look for signs of heart disease, stroke and other illnesses. Then encourage others through your social channels to do the same.

We couldn’t make positive changes without the support and donations by individuals like you.

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Get Social With Your Members of Congress

Will you be on Facebook or Twitter today? Your Members of Congress and their staff will be, and it's a good place to reach them according to a report released in October by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF).

The CMF report, #SocialCongress, says Congressional offices are listening to social media chatter and it takes relatively few posts or comments to get their attention. That's good news for us!

So, how can you use the Facebook newsfeed or Twitter timeline to get the attention of lawmakers and help pass heart healthy policies?

  • Follow your members of Congress, as well as state and local elected officials on Twitter. ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ their pages on Facebook.
  • Tweet about our health policy issues, tagging the appropriate legislators by using the @ sign and their Twitter handle. For example: I’m from Pennsylvania, so I’d tag my U.S. Senators by including @SenBobCasey & @SenToomey in my tweet.
  • If they allow it, you can post about our issues directly on the Facebook pages of elected officials. Frequently, that feature is disabled but you are able to comment on their posts. According to #SocialCongress, Congressional offices typically monitor those comments for a limited period of time. Your best bet is to comment within the first 24 hours after a post.
  • Rally your friends and family members to tweet, post or comment about an issue on a single ‘day of action’. CMF’s survey data shows just 30 or fewer comments can be enough to make a legislative office pay attention.
  • Be sure to use the campaign hashtag if one has been created by your advocacy staff partners. The #hashtag allows all the relevant posts to be woven together to tell our story, and makes your post searchable by others interested in the issue.    

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