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Public Health Group Takes Stances on Sex Education, E-Cigarettes, LGBT Bullying

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The American Public Health Association adopted a policy statement this week that calls on Congress to fund programs that promote comprehensive sex education that includes information on contraception and abstinence "and to defund programs that withhold critical health information."

The association, meeting in New Orleans, also adopted statements about bullying of LBGT youth and the regulations of electronic cigarettes.

Why comprehensive sex education?

As I've previously reported, public health experts find fault with state laws and district policies that ban conversations about contraceptives and abortion. They also find fault with policies and materials that focus largely on heterosexual relationships without acknowledging information about same-sex relationships.

The APHA policy statement "encourages entire communities, including parents, physicians and public health workers, to support comprehensive sexual health education in schools and calls on policymakers to implement evidence-based sex education that fosters equality, respect and the elimination of sexual assault and intimate partner violence." The statement also "urges schools to pay particular attention to student populations at greater risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy."

What does bullying have to do with public health?

Bullying—a major issue in many schools—has effects on mental health and quality of life that may last into adulthood, researchers have found. Research also suggests that bullying in childhood may lead to a changes in brain structures that show up in adolescence. 

As I reported in October, advocates have long said that LGBT students are disciplined at higher rates than their peers and that they are more likely to be the targets of harmful bullying in schools. But, without many sources of federal data about LGBT youth, researchers have struggled to quantify those differences.

The APHA statement "calls on relevant federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to create a research agenda to evaluate new and existing interventions. Encourages federal policymakers to enact legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and urges local school boards and education departments to implement programs that specifically address the safety and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Also urges members of Congress to pass legislation that provides comprehensive sex education for all students, including information addressing sexual assault, bullying and harassment."

What about e-cigarettes?

The APHA statement "calls on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to develop regulations that hold e-cigarettes to the same marketing and advertising standards as conventional tobacco cigarettes and calls for the federal funding of research on the short- and long-term health consequences of e-cigarette use. Urges the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require special packaging, including warning labels, on e-cigarette cartridges to help prevent childhood poisoning. And calls on state and local officials to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes to minors as well as the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public areas and workplaces."

Although e-cigarettes are frequently presented as an alternative device to help smokers quit using traditional tobacco products, research suggests they are becoming increasingly popular among teens. And many teens who try e-cigarettes later smoke traditional products.

 A rule proposed by the FDA in April, if passed, would put such devices under the category of tobacco products, allowing them to be regulated as such.

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