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PUBLIC HEALTH TAKES CENTER STAGE

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(Austin)  Public health issues moved to the forefront at the Capitol Thursday, as lawmakers held three events to concentrate on some of the most important health issues facing the state: smoking, obesity and air quality.

Anti-smoking advocates held a rally on the south steps of the Capitol in support of a state wide public smoking ban.  They were joined by champion cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong in supporting a bill that would make it illegal to smoke in all public buildings and workplaces. 

"Nobody is saying to anybody in this state, 'listen, you cannot smoke a cigarette," said Armstrong.  "If you choose to have a cigarette…I don’t think it's fair to subject other people to second-hand smoke." 

Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, who is carrying the Legislation in the Senate, wants Texas to join 24 other states in passing a comprehensive statewide smoking ban.  "If this bill passes, it will mean another seven percent of the United States will have a smoke-free workplace," said Ellis. 

 

Obesity rates in Texas are soaring, according to a report the state demographer released Thursday.  The study showed that the highest rate of growth is among young adults, who have seen obesity rates rise by 10 percent in the last 7 years, making one in five young adult Texans obese. 

Rates are highest along the border and in rural counties, and looks to increase even more as the state's population ages.  The study predicts that by 2040 almost 15 million, or 43 percent of the state's adult population will be obese.  While obesity increases the danger of heart disease, diabetes and other disorders, Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound said it increases the burden on the state as well. "

It strains the entire healthcare system," she said.  "It hinders the economic productivity, it drains the state budget, and that's why this Legislature has placed a priority on encouraging citizens to take better care of themselves." 

She said that is why she will file a number of bills to address the Texas obesity epidemic.  These bills will propose to give funds for healthy nutrition programs at early-childhood education programs and create a school health advisory council as well as a committee to look at access to healthy food in Texas.

 

Another issue that touches health as well as the environment in Texas is air quality.  The state has made good progress in cleaning up its air, according to Senate Natural Resources Committee Chair Senator Kip Averitt.  " We have made incredible, tremendous strides in cleaning up the air in Texas," he said.  But stricter federal air standards, said Averitt, means that the state will have to do even more to improve air quality.  To that end, he said, he has filed a comprehensive clean air bill to address a number of areas.  His bill would create a grant program under which a number of state agencies who deal with environment and energy can collaborate to encourage new clean air technologies. 

It would also offer grants for businesses and homes to incentivize the purchase of more efficient home appliances, and would offer a $4,000 rebate to purchasers of hybrid plug-in vehicles.  Averitt said the money already allocated, and expected to be allocated this biennium, in the Texas Emission Reduction Plan will be sufficient to pay for these new programs, and doesn't anticipate an increased cost to the state. 

            The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 2, at 1:30 p.m.


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