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Senate Votes To Increase Smoking Age To 21 In Mass.

The Massachusetts Senate voted to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. Signs like this one may need to change if the legislation makes it to the governor's desk. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

The Massachusetts Senate voted to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. Signs like this one may need to change if the legislation makes it to the governor’s desk. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

The Massachusetts Senate voted 32 to 2 on Thursday to raise the state’s tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21, passing legislation that supporters said would cut down youth tobacco use and nicotine addiction.

The bill, compiled by the Joint Committee on Public Health based on several separate pieces of legislation, also bans pharmacies and health care institutions from selling tobacco products and prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes in places where smoking is already banned.

“This bill is also very meaningful to me,” said Sen. Cynthia Creem, a Newton Democrat. “I started to smoke when I was under 21 and I was a teenager, and it was easy. It was the thing to do, and I did smoke…I wish that I was not able to smoke, and that I was older and understood the risks.”

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Weight Gain, Heart Disease, Back Pain: Longer Car Commutes May Harm Your Health

The worsening traffic in Boston -- or any metropolitan area -- does not just cost drivers time. It may also cost them health. Here's early afternoon bumper-to-bumper traffic on 93 in Milton (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The worsening traffic in Boston — or any metropolitan area — does not just cost drivers time. It may also cost them health. Here’s early afternoon bumper-to-bumper traffic on 93 in Milton (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Four years ago, Barbara Huntress-Rather got a great job, as director of quality improvement for a health care company that serves fragile seniors. Just one problem: She lived in Lawrence, and the new job was in Lynn.

“The first day I drove to work and said, ‘Oh, Lord, what have I done?’ ” she recalls. “After having a short commute for quite a few years, I hadn’t done the commute before in rush hour traffic and I was absolutely stunned at how long it took — it was over an hour.”

A harrowing hour, or more, hunched at the wheel, watching out constantly for aggressive or distracted drivers. In the months that followed, the effects on her health were dramatic: “I gained back 40 pounds that I had lost, developed low back pain and high blood pressure,” she says.

Huntress-Rather didn’t immediately blame her commute; she blamed herself for eating too much and feeling too tired to exercise. But she hit a turning point when her nurse practitioner told her she’d need blood pressure medication.

“I had always prided myself in being in good physical shape and meditating and doing all the things that would keep me from having high blood pressure,” she says. “And I immediately made the connection between not working out, spending endless hours in the car and feeling totally stressed most of the time. I was either commuting or worrying about commuting.”

Barbara Huntress-Rather found that her long commute led to weight gain, high blood pressure and back pain. She aims to retire soon and get her good health back. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Barbara Huntress-Rather found that her long commute led to weight gain, high blood pressure and back pain. She plans to retire earlier than she would have otherwise and get her good health back. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Huntress-Rather is practically a textbook case of what longer car commutes can do to bodies and minds. The evidence has been mounting in study after study in recent years, adding up to strong reason to believe that the worsening traffic in Boston — or any metropolitan area — does not just cost drivers time. It may also cost them health.

Let’s begin with the No. 1 killer of Americans: heart disease. Continue reading

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At Least 40 Students With Mumps, Harvard Reports

Harvard University's campus in Cambridge, Mass. Several students have recently been diagnosed with the mumps. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Harvard University’s campus in Cambridge, Mass. Several students have recently been diagnosed with the mumps. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Harvard University officials report 40 cases of mumps at the school.

Lindsey Baker, spokeswoman for Harvard University Health Services, said six of those cases were reported on Friday.

Baker said health officials at the school are worried there could be an even larger outbreak before commencement next month, because the virus lies dormant for two to three weeks after a person is exposed.

Since the illness is quite contagious, students who have tested positive for mumps are put into isolation for five days, she explained.

At least 12 students are in isolation as of Tuesday for suspected or confirmed infections in the wake of the outbreak.

Simmons College Course Prepares Future Social Workers To Address Suicide

Justin Marotta, right, takes his oral mid-term exam for his course -- "Understanding Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention" -- at the Simmons College School of Social Work. Laura Goodman, left, role-plays as the client, as instructor Kim O'Brien observes. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Justin Marotta, right, takes his oral mid-term exam for his course — “Understanding Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention” — at the Simmons College School of Social Work. Laura Goodman, left, role-plays as the client, as instructor Kim O’Brien observes. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In a conference room at Simmons College, two young adults sit across from each other at a table. One of them is sharing details of a very personal mental health struggle.

“I was on the inpatient unit for like a week or so,” the woman says. “My parents brought me into the emergency room because I was pretty depressed and was, like, cutting myself with a scissor.”

It isn’t a real counseling session. It’s a mid-term exam.

Laura Goodman and Justin Marotta are second-year students working toward master’s degrees in social work at Simmons. They’ve been learning how to determine whether a client is suicidal and how to respond. They found out early in this course to come right out and ask clients whether they’re thinking about suicide or have a suicide plan in place. Continue reading

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‘Can’t Imagine Life Without It’: 10 Years After Mass. Health Reform, Residents Speak About Law’s Impact

On this day, 10 years ago, the hottest ticket in town was for a seat in Faneuil Hall, to watch then-Gov. Mitt Romney sign the state’s new health coverage law and describe its goals.

“Every citizen with affordable, comprehensive health insurance, small businesses able to conveniently buy insurance for their employees at a cost that’s competitive with big businesses, medical transparency bringing marketplace dynamics to health care — really for the first time — and finally, beginning to rein in health care inflation,” Romney said in 2006.

Today, we have compiled some facts and figures on the 10th anniversary. There’s also a collection of essays from health care experts of all stripes assessing the law’s first decade.

On Morning Edition today, we hear from a different group: Massachusetts residents, including several who did not have insurance before the state’s first-of-its-kind law.

Josh Archambault: Paternalism Undermined Mass Health Reform Law

One of a series of analyses on the 10th anniversary of the 2006 Massachusetts health care overhaul. Josh Archambault is a senior fellow at the Pioneer Institute and is co-author and editor of “The Great Experiment: The States, The Feds and Your Healthcare,” a comprehensive review of the Massachusetts state law. He also served in the Romney administration. Continue reading