6 Public Health Victories From The Election You Might Have Missed

A few good things happened on Tuesday.
There were a series of promising public health measures passed on Tuesday, including soda taxes that swept in the four cities in which they were on the ballot.
Richard Cummins via Getty Images
There were a series of promising public health measures passed on Tuesday, including soda taxes that swept in the four cities in which they were on the ballot.

Although the surprise outcome of the presidential race overshadowed coverage of the 2016 election, there were some notable public health gains made in states across the country, particularly on the West Coast.

States voted to increase taxes on harmful consumer goods like sugar-sweetened beverages and cigarettes, and approved measures to ensure that people in pain have agency over their treatment.

In case you missed it, here are five public health measures that passed during Tuesday’s election:

1. In a blow to the soda industry, four more cities voted to tax sugary drinks

Soda taxes swept the ballot in the four cities, with San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, California, as well as Boulder, Colorado.

“The tide has clearly turned on this issue, and momentum has swung in our favor,” Howard Wolfson, a senior advisor of pro-tax advocate Michael Bloomberg, told The New York Times. “I am confident in the months ahead more municipalities will seek to implement soda taxes to help their citizens, and we will be willing to help them as they do.”

Why it’s a win: While there’s no proof that soda taxes improve public health, we do know that taxes reduce soda consumption. And sugar-sweetened beverages have been proven to damage health. According to a 2015 study published in the journal Circulation, 184,000 deaths from diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer can be attributed to sugar-sweetened beverages each year.

What more ― the four new tax measures, combined with Philadelphia and Berkeley where such measures passed previously ― should send a powerful message to the rest of the country.

2. A tax hike on cigarettes in California will support health care for low-income people

Californians votes to raise the tax on cigarettes by $2, an initiative that’s expected to garner up to $1.4 billion in tax revenue to support the state’s low-income health care program.

The previous cigarette tax in place in California was among the country’s lowest. John Schachter, the director of state communications for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids called the tax hike a huge victory for the tobacco prevention effort.

“Every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes brings about a 7 percent decrease in use by youth and a 4 percent decrease overall,” Schachter told Reuters.

Why it’s a win: Smoking is a major cause of death and disease among Americans, accounting for 30 percent of cancer deaths and killing more Americans each year than alcohol, car accidents, HIV, guns and illegal drugs combined, according to the American Cancer Society, which great news for a state that already boasts one of the lowest smoking rates in the country. Only 11.6 percent of Californians smoke, according to the California department of public health, compared to a national average of 17 percent.

3. Paid ‘safe leave’ in Arizona and Washington will help domestic violence victims keep their jobs

Arizona and Washington residents voted yes to a “safe leave” measure that will ensure victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault are allowed paid time off to receive services related to their abuse.

“When survivors have access to workplace resources that help them build economic resiliency, they and their families are more likely to remain safe,” Shannon Rich, the director of public policy at the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, told HuffPost.

Why it’s a win: Access to safe leave could make a dent in the $8 billion in lost productivity and health care dollars that domestic violence costs the U.S. each year, according to the CDC, and help victims of domestic violence keep their paychecks and their jobs.

4. Terminally ill adults in Colorado will have more options at the end of their lives

Colorado overwhelmingly passed a medical aid in dying measure that will allow terminally ill adults who are suffering to take prescription medicine to end their lives.

“Passage of Prop 106 means that Coloradans will now have options when facing pain and suffering at the end of their lives,” Melissa Hollis Brenkert, whose sister painfully died from a brain tumor, told The Denver Post.

Why it’s a win: While opponents of the measure worry that it could lead people to end their lives prematurely, advocates say it gives terminal patients the option to avoid pain and suffering at their end of their lives.

5. Residents of 3 more states will have access to medical marijuana ― a win for patients and researchers, alike

Arkansas, North Dakota and Florida all passed medical marijuana measures, allow doctors to prescribe the drug to patients with certain conditions, which vary from state to state.

Why it’s a win: The jury is still out on marijuana for medicinal purposes. A lack of large high-quality studies means there isn’t much much data on marijuana’s potential health benefits. More states with medical marijuana will help create a robust body of research on the drug in years to come.

And, in the meantime, some patients will be aided: A systematic review published by JAMA in 2015 found that marijuana could be an effective treatment for chemotherapy side effects like nausea and vomiting, as well as pain relief.

6. A Florida county voted to battle Zika virus with GMO mosquitos

Residents of Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys and the southwest chunk of Florida, voted to move forward with a measure to release millions of genetically modified mosquitos to combat Zika virus in the state.

Why it’s a win: GMO mosquitos ― which work by interrupting mosquitos’ reproduction process so that carrier insects die off ― is one of scientists’ most promising potential solutions to Zika virus. As it stands, 135 pregnant women in Florida have contracted the virus, which can cause severe birth defects.

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