Today marks the first day of Heart Disease Awareness Month. Often those who serve in elected office mark such events with proclamations or press releases. But for me, this isn’t just a simple policy issue. To me, this is personal, as both of my parents suffered from cardiovascular disease.
My father passed away from a heart attack when he was only 51 years old. I was a 19-year old freshman at Montclair State University at the time. The suddenness and timing of his death forced me to grow up very quickly and defined who I became as an adult. Then, a decade ago, my mother suffered a stroke. This inspired me to write New Jersey’s Stroke Centers Law requiring designation of hospitals as primary or comprehensive stroke centers.
Here in the United States, heart disease is the number one killer of women. The statistics are simply staggering, and we need to take every level of precaution. The American Heart Association is working to change the perception that heart disease primarily affects men and has set a near-term goal of reducing incidents by 25% in women over the course this year.
There are a number of ways to pitch-in during the AHA’s Go Red for Women campaign. This Friday, February 5th, I hope you’ll join me – and thousands of others all across the country – by wearing the color red. Together, we can raise awareness of heart disease and show solidarity with the millions of families who have been affected.
In the legislature, I will continue doing my part to combat heart disease. I was a proud sponsor of laws extending a business tax credit to provide employees with benefits promoting physical fitness and well-being. However, in addition to a public policy agenda that promotes awareness and prevention, each of us can make healthier lifestyle choices that reduce the risk of heart disease – lowering health care costs and, even more importantly, saving lives in the process.
Also, while cigarettes are legal and adults have the right choose whether they want to smoke, I firmly believe they don’t have a right to impose their unhealthy habit upon the non-smoking public. In 2005, I sponsored the law banning smoking in college and university dormitories. Some of you might already know that I am now pushing for legislation banning smoking in New Jersey parks and beaches. These public areas are paid for by taxpayer dollars and should be available everyone to safely enjoy without worrying about the effects of secondhand smoke. Even slight exposure has been found to pose a serious health risk.
On Friday I’ll be in New Brunswick (wearing red) at Robert Wood Johnson hospital for a special event promoting heart health and awareness. If you’re able to make it, I hope to see some of you there.