Elections yield mixed results for America’s heart health

While many Americans were fixated on the Congressional races during the Nov. 6 midterm elections, the American Heart Association (AHA) and CEO Nancy Brown kept an eye on ballot measures with implications for cardiovascular health.

Brown applauded voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah for electing to expand Medicaid, as well as Florida residents for voting to prohibit e-cigarette use in workplaces where combustible cigarettes are already prohibited, including restaurants and shopping malls.

“Voters in states nationwide made it abundantly clear that preventing cardiovascular disease and promoting public health were top election priorities,” Brown said in a statement released through the AHA. “These wins for public health are thanks to grassroots advocates across the country who worked tirelessly to amplify the message that evidence-based public policies can save lives and improve health and wellbeing.”

Brown’s excitement was tempered, however, by wins for the tobacco and soda industries in Montana, South Dakota and Washington.

In Montana, Brown said the tobacco industry spent $17.5 million—more than $17 per resident—to defeat a $2-per-pack tobacco tax that would help fund the state’s expanded Medicaid program for about 96,000 residents. The tobacco tax, which was proposed as a way to keep Medicaid expansion going, didn’t pass and now the program could expire in 2019.

“Big Tobacco’s endless thirst for profits and its need to addict a new generation of users overwhelmed the efforts of public health advocates to create a healthier, more prosperous future for the people of Montana,” Brown said. “Uninsured and underinsured people with heart disease and stroke experience higher mortality rates, poorer blood pressure control, greater neurological impairments and longer hospital stays after a stroke. In addition, higher numbers of the uninsured raise costs for everyone in the health care system.”

Brown urged states that haven’t yet expanded Medicaid coverage to consider doing so. The election results in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah on Tuesday are expected to extend coverage to a combined 300,000 more low-income residents, including 150,000 in Utah.

The midterms also produced mixed results in terms of sugary drink taxes. One beverage industry-backed grocery tax ban in Oregon was rejected by voters, while another one in Washington was approved.

Supporters of the measures in both states pitched them as bans on taxing food and groceries, when their primary focus was to prevent local governments from being able to place new taxes on sugary beverages. Consumption of sugary beverages has been linked to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes in the U.S., and one study released in March found that adults over the age of 45 who drank at least 24 ounces of these drinks per day had double the risk of death from coronary artery disease.

According to The Spokesman-Review, the successful, $20 million campaign in Washington to ban new taxes was funded almost exclusively by big soda companies. In Oregon, most of the $5.3 million spent on Measure 103 came from the American Beverage Association, The Oregonian reported. But voters in Oregon “overwhelmingly” rejected that ban on soda taxes, according to the newspaper.