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Tennessee editorial roundup

November 28, 2018

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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Nov. 25

Johnson City Press on young people’s use of electronic cigarettes and other devices:

When electronic cigarettes came on the scene, they were billed as a tobacco alternative — a way for nicotine addicts to get the fix while avoiding the harmful effects of inhaling tobacco smoke.

And then vaping got cool.

It’s now the introductory smoking method, not the alternative. The Food and Drug Administration says the use of electronic cigarettes and other devices has increased nearly 80 percent among high schoolers and 50 percent among middle schoolers since last year.

So the FDA proposed new measures restricting and regulating flavored nicotine products. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb strongly condemned the vaping industry when he said the administration would “take whatever action is necessary to stop these trends from continuing.”

Any safe measure that helps people break the tobacco habit is a plus. The health risks of tobacco use and their costs to society are too great to ignore. But Americans dove headfirst into vaping without full and clear indications about just how safe prolonged use is, and the jury is still out as to whether they simply replace one danger with another. Some studies show the products have toxic ingredients including carcinogens, but to a lesser extent than tobacco.

Nonetheless, nicotine is nicotine, and it will always be a decidedly addictive drug, regardless of the delivery method.

In his statement, Gottlieb said he saw his position as an opportunity to advance technology innovations for adults seeking nicotine without all the deadly effects of combustion, but FDA policy would not come “at the expense of addicting a generation of children to nicotine through these same delivery vehicles.”

He pointed to data indicating kids using e-cigarettes are going to be more likely to try combustible cigarettes later — a gateway of sorts.

“I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes,” he wrote. “We won’t let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, of future disease and death, to continue to build.”

The FDA is right to be so aggressive. So are school officials when it comes to local prevention and mitigation.

...

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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Nov. 25

Bristol Herald Courier on the announcement of a regional trauma system and neonatal care changes for Ballad Health:

When Wellmont Health Systems and Mountain States Health Alliance began the merger to Ballad Health System, they surveyed people on what they want most from their health care interactions.

The top response? Someone who really listens to them.

The answer became the inspiration behind their motto, “It’s your story, we’re listening.”

The announcement of a regional trauma system and neonatal care changes for Ballad Health has been met with fervent opposition — so much so that the Sullivan County Commission passed a resolution against the decision.

Turning Johnson City Medical Center into the region’s anchor hospital makes sense for all of the reasons outlined on the company’s website. We especially appreciate the coordinated efforts with Niswonger Children’s Hospital for perinatal care.

But access to a NICU is still greatly needed in Sullivan County.

Pediatric emergency rooms are a wonderful addition to our health system, but they do nothing to help babies affected by neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Luckily, the changes to neonatal care must be approved by the state, according to Certificate of Public Advantage and Cooperative Agreement (COPA) rules — and we hope they read our Addicted at Birth series before they vote.

Johnson City Medical Center is in the southwestern third of Ballad’s coverage area. Making JCMC the region’s only Level I trauma care hospital would increase response time for people in need of Level I care in Southwest Virginia anytime between 15 minutes to two hours depending on their location and travel conditions.

And even though the southern half of their coverage area is more densely populated, why not effort to make the “safety net” hospital more centralized to serve everyone equally?

Why would the focus of these changes not center around Bristol Regional Medical Center or even Holston Valley, which already boasts a Level I trauma center and NICU unit? Both hospitals are far more centrally located than Johnson City and would provide better critical-care access for the region.

Even if you look outside of the Ballad Health System, people living in Southwest Virginia don’t have many options when it comes to critical care. Pikeville Medical Center in Pikeville, Kentucky, has a NICU, but is only a Level II trauma center. Bluefield Medical Center in Bluefield, West Virginia, is a Level IV trauma center. Neither make up for the loss of Kingsport’s Level I designation, but it may cause patients to be diverted from the coalfield region to Pikeville instead of Bristol or Kingsport.

Sullivan County officials have also expressed concerns about the strain that the changes will bring to their emergency medical services. What would this strain mean for the future of the county? Spending more taxpayer dollars to make up for the extra travel time? If this will affect Sullivan County, then what about EMS services that are located even farther from JCMC?

Ballad Health has claimed that Sullivan County is concerned based on incorrect information but has yet to specify what information was incorrect.

We understand part of this effort is being done to reduce costs on the company and eliminate duplicate services, but patients should come before the bottom line.

Ballad should rethink their plans and adjust to fit the needs of their coverage area.

We are talking about a health care system after all.

Ballad, your patients are telling their story, are you listening?

Online: https://www.heraldcourier.com/

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Nov. 22

The Commercial Appeal on knowing the names of corporate suitors:

Secrecy is often the default position among taxpayer-funded government agencies of all kinds. That’s why open meetings and open records laws are necessary and why maintaining transparency in government operations is an ongoing task requiring constant vigilance.

So it is somewhat predictable that members of the Economic Development and Growth Engine board would like to offer an extra incentive — confidentiality — to companies that might relocate to Shelby County or expand their operations here.

The EDGE board has voted to seek guidance from the attorney general’s office to determine if the name of a company applying for incentives, its parent company and its address can be hidden from the public but revealed to the board.

Nice try, but no.

Wouldn’t you want to know whether tax relief, infrastructure improvements and other incentives that drain public resources were being offered to Facebook or the Trump Corporation — just to name two controversial companies.

Give the board credit for not seeking to withhold other information about the prospect such as the industry, the number of jobs the company plans to create, and the average pay of each job.

But that simply is not enough information for the public to evaluate a company’s request, especially during a time in which the verifiable benefits to the public are being questioned.

Besides, recent research by economist Timothy Bartik at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research revealed that the correlation between incentives delivered by states and their unemployment rate and income levels is insignificant. And more often than not, incentives are handed out to companies that would have relocated anyway — without getting anything in return.

No one can accuse Shelby County — or Tennessee, for that matter — of not wanting more new job-creating relocations and expansions. Both are players in the battle for new industry.

According to the Updike study, Tennessee is the fourth most generous suitor for new business — 105 percent higher than the national average. Shelby County and Memphis had more active property tax-forgiving arrangements than any other area in Tennessee in 2016.

Public employees whose benefits have been cut to help balance the city budget, public education advocates, advocates for improvements to the infrastructure and others raise legitimate questions about the benefits these deals deliver.

The question of whether an arrangement actually might end up being a burden on local government budgets always looms over the decision. Clawing back tax breaks can be a cumbersome and complicated process. The history of attempts to recoup incentives after companies have failed to deliver what they promised is rife with failures.

And companies, like people, have reputations that may figure one way or another in the evaluation of whether or not to welcome them into the community. Obviously, new companies and expansions to existing firms can have serious impacts on a community’s well-being.

Give the EDGE board credit for seeking an opinion from the attorney general’s office regarding the legality of its proposal. Whatever the answer may be to that question, however, it would not be in the public’s interest to keep the name of an applicant under wraps.

It’s the public’s money that is being offered. The public has a right and a need to know the name of the intended recipient.

Online: https://www.commercialappeal.com/

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