Florida has witnessed great success in helping people stop smoking, and the next great wave of tobacco cessation will come through renewed engagement by health care professionals.
Thanks to collaborative efforts by Tobacco Free Florida, the smoking rate of Florida adults is 17.7 percent, well below the national average of 19.6 percent. Further, the smoking rate for high school students in Florida dropped to 8.6 percent, below the national average of 23.3 percent.
These numbers are encouraging, yet tobacco use is still a major contributor to the leading causes of death in our state: cancer and heart disease. Health care professionals play a critical role in helping patients understand the impact of smoking and have a unique opportunity to help patients quit.
Currently, only half of Florida's health care professionals report "often assessing" tobacco users' readiness to quit or "often assisting" users with a quit attempt. We know that patients who discuss ways to quit with their health care professionals are ultimately more successful in their quit attempts. Patients who quit smoking live healthier and can add up to 10 years to their life expectancy.
The Florida Department of Health's Tobacco Free Florida program is a national leader in prevention and cessation efforts. By using the state's free services, patients can double their chances of success. There are three ways to quit: by calling the toll-free quitline at 1-877-822-6669, using online resources at www.quitnow.net/florida, or attending in-person classes, available at www.ahectobacco.com. Smokers seeking to quit may also receive free FDA-approved nicotine-replacement therapy.
The theme of the sixth annual Tobacco Free Florida Week is Team Up to Quit, a statewide effort to raise awareness of the resources available to Floridians. Together we can help Florida become the healthiest state in the nation.
Health care professionals can find more information at www.tobaccofreeflorida.com/ healthcare.
Dr. John Armstrong, Florida surgeon general and secretary of health, Tallahassee
Professional standards | April 14, letter
The letter writer is correct that the tax-preparation industry needs higher professional standards and licensing requirements. But she is wrong in her comment about volunteer tax preparers. In Pasco County, we have a dedicated cadre of over 125 dedicated volunteers, many with more than 10 years' experience and some with CPA licenses. Our volunteers get more than 40 hours of training each year and all of them, including the CPAs, are annually certified by passing IRS exams.
We have 10 locations in the county and have prepared about 8,000 tax returns this season. And our volunteers have contributed over 10,000 hours to the community doing free tax returns for those who cannot afford to pay $100 to $200 for their tax return. To ensure the quality of our work, all returns are reviewed by a highly experienced volunteer preparer — something that does not happen in storefront tax-preparer locations. But when a client can benefit from professional, paid advice, we are quick to recommend a qualified professional preparer.
To say that volunteers cannot prepare returns of even moderate complexity or ones that contain fairly common transactions does not reflect what takes place at these tax sites.
William F. Humphrey, Pasco County volunteer tax preparation program coordinator, Trinity
Reforms are working
Because Florida Republican officials are refusing federal Medicaid dollars, about 1.3 million low-income Florida residents will not get health care coverage. Before Obamacare, 4.1 million Floridians lacked health insurance. Despite Gov. Rick Scott and other Florida legislative efforts to block Medicaid expansion and enrollment, the number of Florida's uninsured has been reduced to 3.4 million.
In my physician volunteer work, I encourage patients to sign up. Many cannot afford required premiums due to Florida's refusal to accept expansion money. One mother was pleased with the premium but was unable to make an appointment with the doctor. Although he was a listed provider, he claimed the plan dropped him. She called the insurer, which gave a different story and claimed, in fact, the doctor had dropped them. She found another physician.
Premiums and deductibles were high for a local businessman due to pre-existing conditions. With Obamacare, his premiums have been cut significantly and he and his family are fully covered with a reasonable deductible.
Another man reported significant premium savings. His wife had surgery, and although the hospital had admitted her, hospital officials later claimed they were not an Obamacare provider. Her insurance status was clear on admission. The hospital is cooperating and resolving coverage concerns.
Most I speak to are happy with Obamacare cost and coverage. Typically, those with serious medical conditions are finding affordable insurance. Obamacare is the first successful effort to address America's uninsured. Despite conservatives' relentless efforts to sabotage Obamacare, more and more Americans are taking advantage of it.
Marc Yacht, M.D., Hudson
The price of ideology is this woman's life April 11, commentary
'Death panel' arrives
The Republicans warned us about the "death panels" headed our way as a result of Obamacare. Apparently, Florida's death panel consists of Will Weatherford and Rick Scott.
Jon Gruber, the health care expert from MIT who consulted on Romneycare and Obamacare, said last week: "They are not just not interested in covering poor people, they are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness."
Kimberly Trombley, St. Petersburg
Illegal wildlife trafficking
Banning the ivory trade
Illegal wildlife trafficking is a multibillion-dollar industry. It is carried out by international criminal cartels and represents a threat to global security and ecological health. Recognizing the growing threat, President Barack Obama created a task force and advisory council to combat wildlife trafficking. The goal of the advisory council, made up of members of the private sector, nonprofits and governmental agencies, is to assist the task force with advice and recommendations.
The United States also announced a ban on domestic ivory sales, with certain exceptions. This ban is necessary because the sale of legal ivory perpetuates the killing of wild elephants. Ivory taken from poached elephants is often mixed with licit ivory and sold on the legal ivory market. Stemming demand by ending the legal trade of ivory is key to ending poaching.
However, the ivory ban caused some backlash from industries that regularly deal in ivory. I witnessed this firsthand when I attended a meeting of the advisory council on March 20, where many lobbyists and industry members voiced their opposition to the trade restrictions. While their concerns are understandable, ivory trafficking poses problems that dwarf the concerns of the few. The ivory ban is necessary to prevent elephant extinction and choke off funding to international terror networks.
With so much at stake, outlawing the trade in ivory deserves our support.
Ethan Arthur, Land O'Lakes
Boost access to good foods
Where we live influences our risk of obesity. Oftentimes, we are quick to blame individuals who are overweight and obese as not making proper nutrition decisions. However, one of the reasons many of our poorer citizens do not eat well is because they do not have a grocery store or any other place to buy nutritious foods, especially fruits and vegetables. In fact, in some places they have to drive more than 10 miles to get good food for their families. These areas are called food deserts because they lack access to nutrient-dense food and are economically disadvantaged communities. In Hillsborough County alone, there are more than 40 census tracts designated as food deserts.
Blaming these individual is not the solution to our obesity epidemic. Rather, we need to focus on community and state policy initiatives that would improve access to healthful foods. The Florida Legislature is considering two bills, HB 441 and SB 426, which would provide tax credits to supermarkets and grocery stores that operate in designated food deserts as an incentive to provide nutritious foods. These bills deserve our support.
Erika Thompson, Tampa
Spell out the pricing
Florida's Department of Transportation has implemented "toll-by-plate" invoicing. Most likely, the first time motorists find out about it is when they receive an invoice in the mail for a toll they never knew was there. You pass under a transponder, which takes a photo of your license plate, then you are charged the toll plus a $2.50 "administrative fee."
I was recently on the Mid-Bay Bridge Connector coming from I-10 in Okaloosa County and saw a sign that said "Toll — 2 Axles $1.50." But there was no toll booth, no gate — nothing. I was stumped, but thought little of it until I got the invoice in the mail.
My beef with this system is how angry it's going to make our visitors who will return home from a Florida vacation, then get an invoice in the mail for all the tolls. We need signs to read "If you take this road you will be charged X amount."
Robin Rowan, Pensacola