The Mississippi Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (MAHPERD) wisely brought their 82nd Annual Convention to Southern Miss this past Thursday and Friday. Faculty members and staff in our School of Kinesiology – notably Asst. Prof. Rob Doan and communications staffer extraordinaire Hanna Knowles – helped host the meeting with style and professionalism. On Friday morning, President Bennett followed KIN director Scott Piland in delivering thoughtful welcoming remarks that showed real appreciation for the critical contribution that health professionals make to the educational process and our collective well-being overall (always music to this dean’s ears). All the informal feedback I picked up was very, very positive. I won’t be surprised if MAHPERD comes knocking on our door again real soon.
And oh, yes, I got to teach all 60 or so students attending workshops on Thursday a line dance (to”Mojo Mambo” music) that they later performed in competition. I can’t wait to see the video. :-)
I spent a good chunk of yesterday at a meeting in Jackson of the Mississippi Tobacco Control Advisory Council, of which I’m a member by virtue of my position as dean of the college. Chaired by former attorney general Mike Moore, famous for the unprecedented litigation victory over Big Tobacco in the 1990’s, the Council monitors and advises tobacco mitigation efforts of the Mississippi Department of Health.
Unfortunately, the hundreds of millions of dollars paid out to Mississippi in settlement and originally committed to a “trust fund” to advance the health of Mississippians has long been spent on other things. How that happened (not only in Mississippi, but around the nation in states sharing in the litigation settlement) is a fascinating, if disheartening, story. But here the question is different: Why isn’t Mississippi – in a real sense ground zero in the fight against the health ravages of tobacco – doing more?
In case you think the battle against tobacco has been won in our state, think again – Mississippi ranks 6th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. in prevalence of adult smoking, and 8th in high school seniors’ smoking. We need to do two things now above all – (1) raise the tax on cigarettes further (it was raised in 2009 from 18 cents to 68 cents per pack, one of the lowest tax rates in the country); (2) pass a statewide public smoking ban. Evidence suggests both that these methods are effective, and that further reduction in smoking would pay heavy dividends in terms of reduced disease prevalence and medical costs for treatment.
The irony of Mississippi’s lethargic approach to tobacco control – in the hands of the legislature, and not those of either the Department of Health or the Division of Medicaid – is that Mike Moore’s successful lawsuit argued that Mississippi should not be forced to pay for the health damage caused by the tobacco manufacturers. The fact is, we’re still paying.
Yesterday and today, the School of Social Work hosted the 44th Annual Alabama-Mississippi Social Work Education Conference – the longest-running regional conference of its type in the U.S.
350 social work educators and students from 10 schools in the two states – not to mention a few “outside” visitors and two dozen exhibitors – jammed the second and third floors of the Thad Cochran Center, making it the largest gathering in conference history.
Hats off to the School of Social Work, and especially conference organizers Barry Haywood, Rachel Lahasky, and Melissa Coker for a job well done. (And yes, the rumors are true – there was ballroom dancing at last night’s reception!)
We’ve made automobiles much, much safer since the days they were massive hunks of steel hurtling down highways without impact absorbing bumpers, seat belts, or air bags. The public’s health and safety is much, much better for it. So why don’t we do the same with guns?
Okay, I confess I’m not a gun guy, and if I had my druthers, I’d slap all kinds of controls on what kinds of weapons were available and who had access to them. How much motivation do we need? The list of high-profile massacres alone – leave aside the “private” tragedies of accidents, domestic murders, and suicides – should be a lengthening ball and chain on the collective conscience – Aurora, Colo., Newton, Conn., Ft. Hood, Tex., Charleston, S.C.; three campus shooting in just the past month….
But I’m not talking about “gun control.” I’m talking about gun safety and protecting the public’s health from preventable violence. Various types of “smart” safety technology is readily available, as is superior, “micro-stamping” of weapons and ammunition for identification and tracing purposes.
Again and again one reads – usually after the latest news of multiple gun-related deaths – that the issues are “complex.” Really? Here’s a pretty simple policy formula to follow: 1. Set stringent standards for weapons safety. 2. Require gun manufacturers to apply the standards. 3. Hold them accountable when they don’t.
It would be a good start, anyway.
Governor Brown of California – a state reeling in the unyielding grasp of a 500-year drought and raging wildfires – had this to say on Sunday:
“This is a crisis that’s not like a political problem, Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals,” he said. “This goes to the very foundation of what it means to be human in a world of living things…. The drought is just a very, very tiny foretaste of what’s to come.”
Brown also noted that in any head-to-head contest of “man vs. nature,” nature wins, hands down. The Enlightenment dream of a human “conquest” of nature through science turns out to be less godlike aspiration than self-delusion. Homo sapiens have plundered the earth in an ever-accelerating 300-year rampage of resource extraction and atmospheric carbon pollution, only to find that the track we’re on ends in ecocide and mass extinction, including our own species suicide.
Can we get off the track before it’s too late? Is there still time to preserve our own health and the health of the planet that we cannot live without?