State’s Inaction is Very Disappointing

 The state Legislature left Albany without listening to the will of the people, and left a measure to reduce the risk of death and disease on the table.

We are so disappointed in our elected representatives that they didn’t pass Tobacco 21,” said Caitlin O’Brien, New York state government relations director for the American Heart Association. “More than 75 percent of state’s residents are protected by local Tobacco 21 laws, but the many gaps leave our youth exposed to the potential health risks of tobacco products.”

Tobacco 21, sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, and state Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, would raise the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products across the state to 21. Currently, 22 localities have Tobacco 21 legislation. Monroe County is set to vote Tobacco 21 out of committee on Monday, June 25.

Tobacco 21 made it to the floor of the state Assembly on their final day, June 20, but was laid aside.

In the Senate, Tobacco 21 passed the Health Committee but never made it through to the Rules Committee.

“Smoking is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke,” O’Brien said. “It’s also the leading preventable risk factor for death. We know that 96% of current smokers start before the age of 21. But if someone makes it to 21 without ever smoking, they only have a 2 percent chance of picking up this deadly habit. It’s incomprehensible that the state Legislature didn’t prioritize the health of New Yorkers in this year’s legislative session, nor did they listen to the will of the people. The number of localities that have Tobacco 21 shows that the public wants this measure. We will continue to push for a statewide Tobacco 21 law.”



Albany County Executive Signs Legislation Banning Tobacco Sales in Pharmacies

Very good news in Albany County today!

Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy today signed Local Law A, which bans the sale of tobacco and other nicotine products in pharmacies and stores containing pharmacies throughout Albany County.

County Executive McCoy held a public hearing on the measure after the bill was adopted by the Albany County Legislature on May 14 where numerous advocates and community members from around the county spoke in favor of the ban, citing the wide-ranging health benefits the measure would have on residents.

“This is an important piece of legislation that will improve the health and the lives of Albany County residents,” said County Executive McCoy.

McCoy also noted this measure improves upon the previous version of the bill, which lacked any enforcement mechanisms for the ban and would have been ineffective in its intent, by including a $500 per day fine for any establishment in violation.

“In signing this bill, I am urging the legislature to immediately amend defects in the legislation which also prohibit the sale of smoking cessation devices and implements of igniting tobacco products, namely lighters and matches,” continued McCoy. “It appears these prohibitions were done in error through the use of certain definitions of Tobacco Products, and Tobacco Components or Accessories. It is hard to imagine that the Legislature intended to prohibit the sale of things like nicotine patches at the exact stores where one would expect to find such devices. Similarly, as written, the law prohibits the sale of matches at the same stores that sell birthday candles.”

“The American Heart Association applauds County Executive McCoy for continuing to put the health of county residents first by signing Local Law A,” said Dan Moran, Chair of the New York State Advocacy Committee of the American Heart Association and President of Next-Act. “It never made sense to sell deadly tobacco products in pharmacies, places that are about health. The County Executive is building on the legacy the County began when he approved Tobacco 21, raising the legal minimum sales age for tobacco products to 21. Albany County is a place where making the healthy choice is easy to do.”

“Tobacco and pharmacies simply don’t mix. Albany County residents visit pharmacies for medications and advice that will improve their health, including quitting smoking. It makes it more difficult for a smoker to quit, when he or she is at a pharmacy to get a prescription and they see tobacco being sold,” said Julie Hart, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network New York government relations director.  “We would like to thank Albany County Executive McCoy for standing up to big tobacco and putting the health of residents first.”

“We applaud County Executive McCoy and the Albany County Legislature for making pharmacies tobacco free in Albany County.  Removing tobacco products from locations where patients are going for their healthcare makes sense and is a public health victory.” said Michael Seilback, National Assistant Vice President of State Public Policy for the American Lung Association.

“I applaud the county executive for signing into law this important public health measure. Tobacco-free pharmacies will reduce youth access to all tobacco products including electronics cigarettes and it will help smokers quit.” said Judy Rightmyer, Director of the Capital District’s Tobacco-Free Communities.

Albany County has the highest percentage of pharmacies selling tobacco products of any county throughout the state, despite CVS already banning their sale and no independent pharmacies in Albany County currently selling them.

The approval of this legislation comes as other localities from across the state and country have implemented similar measures, including New York City and Rockland County.




Jeanne Walsh takes the reins in Albany office of the Heart Association

Jeanne Walsh

After 28 years with the American Cancer Society, something she never expected happened to Jeanne Walsh: she was diagnosed with chordoma, a rare cancer that occurs in the bones of the skull base and spine.

That was in February 2017, and required two surgeries, and treatments from May till the end of July, not in her Capital Region home, but in Boston. Walsh retired in November, but after the first of the year, knew she wanted to return to work.

On April 2, Walsh began working as the executive director of the American Heart Association in the Capital Region. In this position, Walsh oversees a staff of three and leads the Albany office to raise $1 million and improve heart and brain health in a 14-county area.

“I wanted to have an encore career of something that was impactful and wanted to continue to make a difference for people,” Walsh said of accepting the position at the American Heart Association. “The American Heart Association has the gravitas and brand that people know. I hold it in as high a regard as I do the American Cancer Society. Heart disease and stroke affect so many people. I’m looking forward to building strong relationships with the key volunteers who help the organization, growing our brand in the community, and engaging more people in our events, so we can continue to grow our mission.”

During her 28 years at he American Cancer Society, Walsh held nine different positions, beginning in an entry level position, and retiring as the senior vice president of corporate and community engagement for the eastern division, which is New York and New Jersey.

“I’m most proud of the development of the Chinese Unit in Queens,” Walsh said of her time with ACS. “It is an office where people speak Mandarin and Cantonese, and where we fight cancer on the grassroots level. I was also involved in raising the money to open a Hope Club in Rochester. We worked closely with the University of Rochester and other corporations to get that Hope Club started. I was also the lead for the whole division related to the the Cancer Prevention Study III. We achieved 120 percent of our goal, getting people between the ages of 30 and 65, mainly men who have never had cancer, to participating in a 10-year study.”

Walsh also worked locally to help Gilda’s Club become the Hope Club.

How has having had cancer affected her?

“I look at life so differently,” she said. “Things that used to bother me don’t anymore. Things I value, I value.”

For all her good work with the American Cancer Society, and for her positive attitude while fighting cancer, the American Cancer Society gave Walsh the Beacon of Hope Award at its Gala of Hope in April.

“That was an incredibly emotional experience,” Walsh said.

“Jeanne is a non-profit leader with over 28 years with the American Cancer Society and 14 years as a member of the Executive Leadership Team at ACS,” said James Devlin, senior vice president of development for the Eastern Region of the American Heart Association.  “She brings tremendous experience leading teams, working with volunteers and managing through change.  I am delighted to have Jeanne join the AHA family and help elevate what is already an incredibly strong group of volunteers and staff.”

Since joining the Heart Association, Walsh has been part of the Go Red for Women Luncheon and the Capital Region Heart Walk and Run.

“I’m so impressed with the Heart Association events I’ve seen so far,” Walsh said. “The Go Red for Women movement really shows how women can bond together to make changes. We’re also innovative – we have a new event in the fall called CycleNation, a stationary cycling event that is active and improves health.”

Walsh is from Massapequa. She graduated from SUNY Cortland, and she and her husband John, a native of Loudonville, live in Guilderland. They have two grown children, Jack and Jenna, who live in New York City.






Update From Albany: Despite uncertainties, let’s continue the push for Tobacco 21

New York’s Government Relations Director Caitlin O’Brien, left, and the American Lung Association’s Director of Public Policy Kristina Wieneke continue to lead the push to pass #Tobacco21 statewide.

Our New York State Government Relations Director Caitlin O’Brien has a June Update From Albany.

With only a few weeks left of this year’s legislative session, the fate of Tobacco 21 remains uncertain.

Due to continued political turmoil regarding control of the Senate, and the recent return to Naval duty by Republican Senator Tom Croci, nobody really knows how many more pieces of legislation will get passed.

We are still putting all our efforts behind Tobacco 21, and it is moving along. Just this past Thursday, the Senate Health Committee voted the bill out of committee. Four Republican Senators, Betty Little of Queensbury; Martin Golden of Brooklyn; Patty Ritchie of Oswegatchie in St. Lawrence County; and James Seward of Milford in Otsego County, voted against the bill. That means we need our volunteers to reach out and urge them to support this common-sense legislation. Before Tobacco 21 can be voted on by the full Senate, it needs to pass out of the Finance Committee. Unfortunately, this is the same committee where the bill died last year. No date is set yet for the bill to come before the Finance Committee.

Moving over to the Assembly, we are still trying to get enough votes to make sure the bill will be voted out of the codes committee. Tobacco legislation is hard to get through this committee. We need all the help we can get! These Assembly members need to hear from you in order to ensure they vote in favor of Tobacco 21: Vivian Cook of Jamaica; Daniel O’Donnell of New York City; Andrew Hevesi of Queens; and Michelle Titus of Far Rockaway.

I can make it easy for you to contact your legislator. Contact me at Caitlin O’Brien at Caitlin.obrien@heart.org and I’ll  provide you with a pre-written email or letter to send to your legislator.

Social media is always helpful, so please feel free to use this sample content to tweet at your legislator and any of these Legislators:






You can find a list of all the New York legislators’ Twitter handles here: https://lrany.org/nys-legislator-twitter-handles/.

Here is some sample content:

Half a million New Yorkers live with serious smoking-caused illnesses and disabilities. Let’s stop smoking before it starts by passing #Tobacco21. @YourLegislator #LifeIsWhyNY

If someone reaches the age of 21 without smoking, the chance of them ever doing so plummets to 2%. Protect our youth by passing #Tobacco21. @YourLegislator #LifeIsWhyNY

26,000 people in New York die annually from tobacco use. It’s time to change that. Passing #Tobacco 21 will prevent death and disability connected to stroke. @YourLegisaltor. #LifeIsWhyNY.

Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. 96% of smokers start before turning 21. 96%! Passing #Tobacco21 can stop that. @YourLegislator #LifeIsWhyNY



Still thinking red!

We had such a great day at the 2018 Go Red for Women Luncheon! Take a look at the great photos that ran in the Times Union. https://www.timesunion.com/photogallery/article/SEEN-Go-Red-for-Women-luncheon-2018-12943202.php


Albany County Legislature bans tobacco sales in pharmacies

Albany County Legislature

The American Heart Association applauds the Albany County Legislature tonight, as it voted to ban the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies. The county Legislature approved Local Law A 26 – 11, with one abstention.

“This is a great step forward for the health of Albany County residents,” said Caitlin O’Brien, New York state government relations director for the American Heart Association. “Smoking remains a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 5 killers in America. To have tobacco products sold in pharmacies, that are designed to improve health, never made any sense. The American Heart Association thanks the Albany County Legislature for passing this law tonight.”

The law now goes to Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy for his signature. Before that, there must be a public hearing.

Albany County was among the first to raise the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products to 21,” O’Brien said. “We’re looking forward to having the County Executive further make Albany County a leader in making the healthy choice the easy choice by signing this law.”








Update From Albany: Changes, Lobby Day Approaches

Heart Association advocates will return to the Capitol on May 8.

With the American Heart Association’s Tobacco 21 lobby day set for May 8, a strong show of support will go a long way. Help us protect the health of our youth by letting elected officials know that you support raising the minimum legal sales age of tobacco products to 21.

You may have heard about the political unrest currently going on in the New York Senate. A breakaway group of Democrats, called the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), who had previously caucused with the Republicans, decided to rejoin the mainline Democrats in hopes to create a Senate controlled by the Democratic Party. After the Democrats gained two seats in a special election at the end of April, the Democrats where only one seat away from becoming the majority party. This one seat deficit is due in part to Senator Felder, a Democrat who votes with the Republicans.

So, why does all this matter for our Tobacco 21 legislation? Well, Tobacco 21’s Senate sponsor, a former IDC member, is now in the minority. By showing your support, you can increase the chances of getting this common-sense legislation passed this year.

Now more than ever legislators need to hear from you. Social media is a great way to get involved. Below is a list of key legislators and their twitter handles as well as some Facebook and Twitter messages you can use. You can also tweet, call or write to your own elected legislator.

John J. Flanagan  @LeaderFlanagan

Kemp Hannon   @HannonSenate

Simcha Felder    @NYSenatorFelder

John DeFrancisco @JohnDeFrancisco

Richard Funke   @SenatorFunke

Catharine Young  @SenatorYoung

Carl Heastie        @CarlHeastie

Joseph Lentol    @assemblymanjoe

Andrew Hevesi @AndrewHevesi 

Suggested Facebook posts or tweets regarding Tobacco 21

Half a million New Yorkers live with serious smoking-caused illnesses and disabilities. Let’s stop smoking before it starts by passing #Tobacco21. @YourLegislator #LifeIsWhyNY @AHANewYork

If someone reaches the age of 21 without smoking, the chance of them ever doing so plummets to 2%. Protect our youth by passing #Tobacco21. @YourLegislator #LifeIsWhyNY @AHANewYork

28,000 people in New York die annually from tobacco use. It’s time to change that. Passing #Tobacco 21 will prevent death and disability connected to stroke. @YourLegisaltor. #LifeIsWhyNY. @AHANewYork

Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. 95% of smokers start before turning 21. 95%! Passing #Tobacco21 can stop that. @YourLegislator #LifeIsWhyNY. @AHANewYork



The Red Couch Tour arrives at the Y on April 24

Leigh Hornbeck

The third stop of the Red Couch Tour is almost here! On Tuesday, April 24, at the Southern Saratoga Y, you can join host Leigh Hornbeck of the Times Union on the red couch presented by the American Heart Association and Ellis Medicine, and share your story of how heart disease and stroke has affected you.

The Heart Association and Ellis invite survivors, caregivers, and anyone affected by heart disease or stroke to join us at “The Red Couch Tour” and share their story.  Leigh will ask about your experience and what you want others to know.

Heart disease is our nation’s No. 1 killer, and stroke is No. 5. Come take a seat on our red couch to share, or be in the audience to be inspired and educated.

Here’s info about Stop No. 3! Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 24

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Southern Saratoga YMCA

1 Wall St., Clifton Park

Moderator: Leigh Hornbeck, reporter, Times Union and Women@Work

For questions, or to let the Heart Association know you’d like to share your story (pre-registration not needed!), call Sharon Horton, Development Director, Go Red for Women at 518.626.8754 or email Sharon.horton@heart.org or Jessica Pettengill, Development Director, Heart Walk at 518.626. 8768 or jessica.pettengill@heart.org.




Two survivors chair Go Red for Women Luncheon

Dr. Joy Lucas

Hope Plavin

On a Thursday evening in March 2015, Dr. Joy Lucas, owner of Upstate Animal Medical Center in Saratoga Springs, didn’t feel right. But she kept on about her business, working 12-hour days, taking her four-mile runs, and doing her intense workouts at the gym. The following Tuesday, after her chiropractor made her promise to go to the emergency department, she went home, kissed her animals, then went to the Glens Falls emergency room. She was diagnosed with a Type A Dissecting Aortic Aneurysm and told she would die without surgery.

Her request for a second opinion was answered with, “You move, you die.”

Lucas was taken by helicopter to Albany Med, where Dr. Louis Britton operated on her.

Hope Plavin is a senior consultant at Health Management Associates. Seven years ago, she was out for her regular Sunday run when she collapsed in a ditch. Luckily, a neighbor looked out his window, saw her fall and called 9-1-1. The healthy, 51-year-old had suffered a stroke. She was taken to Saratoga Hospital, then transferred to Albany Med, where Dr. Junichi Yamamoto put six platinum coils in her head to create a barrier where an aneurysm had burst, destroying vessels in her brain.

Plavin was at Albany Med for three weeks and spent six more months between home and Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital. She was on pain medication for months to combat the pressure and pain caused by the burst vessels.

“I’ve been told there is no reason I should be alive without disability,” Plavin said. “Every Christmas, I bring the neighbor who saved me a basket of goodies. I’m extremely fortunate.”

Lucas and Plavin are co-chairing the 2018 Go Red For Women Luncheon on May 24 at the Albany Marriott. They hope that their stories will encourage other women to pay attention to their symptoms and to their family history.

“I shouldn’t even be here,” Lucas said. “In the back of my mind, I thought something might be wrong with my heart. My father was 60 when he also died of a dissecting aortic aneurysm. I got my life back, and my mission now is to make sure other women with symptoms don’t ignore them like I did.”

“Like many, with 20/20 hindsight, I should have known I was at risk for a stroke,” Plavin said. “My mother dropped dead at 60 in a restroom. We didn’t have an autopsy done, but it was probably a stroke. I had no risk factors; it was all genetics. My brother and sister have been advised to get checked, and my 28-year-old son will also need to be checked when he is 40.”

Lucas, who shared her story at the 2017 Capital Region Heart Ball at the Hall of Springs, asked Plavin to co-chair the 2018 Go Red for Women Luncheon with her. The day she asked was a significant one for Plavin: It was the one-year anniversary of Plavin’s husband’s death from cancer.

“This is the world giving me the opportunity to give back,” Plavin said of her decision to co-chair.
Lucas is a native of Wellston, Ohio. Her undergraduate degree is from Ohio Dominican University and her DVM is from the University of Tennessee. She has owned Upstate Animal Medical Center since 2001. She has a strong interest in avian and exotic animals. She lives in Saratoga Springs and is a devoted Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Plavin worked at United Health Care and in several positions at the New York state Department of Health before joining Health Management Associates. She grew up in New York City. Her undergraduate degree is from SUNY Stony Brook, and she holds a Master’s of Public Administration from Rockefeller College, SUNY Albany, as well as a Master’s of Health Care Delivery Science from Dartmouth College. She also has a certificate of completion for the Shaping Healthcare Delivery Policy Program, Health Care Delivery Science, from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

For information about the 2018 Capital Region Go Red for Women Luncheon, visit www.CapitalREgionNYGoRedLUncheon.heart.org or call 518.626.8754.

About the Go Red For Women Luncheon 

The 2018 Capital Region Go Red for Women Luncheon is set for Thursday, May 24 at the Albany Marriott, 189 Wolf Road, from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. There will be a Festival of Red that includes the Purse-Onality auction, an educational session, health screenings and information, followed by a heart-healthy lunch, the introduction of the BetterU, and survivor stories. Dr. Joy Lucas of Upstate Animal Medical Center, and Hope Plavin of Health Management Associates, are co-chairs of the Luncheon. Benita Zahn of WNYT NewsChannel 13 will emcee the Luncheon. Macy’s and CVS are national sponsors of the Go Red for Women movement. Albany Med is the American Heart Association’s Life is Why sponsor in the Capital Region. Local sponsors include Upstate Animal Medical Center, CDPHP, CAP COM, Price Chopper/Market 32, SEFCU and St. Peter’s Health Partners. Women@Work is the media sponsor of the BetterU. Other media sponsors re WNYT, B95.5, All Over Albany and the Albany Business Review. For information, contact 518.626.8754 or Sharon.Horton@heart.org.



Update From Albany

Caitlin O’Brien, the Heart Association’s government relations director, brings us an Update From Albany.

With New York State finalizing the state budget this past weekend, the Heart Association scored some great public health wins. With the Governor threatening to cut millions of dollars in funding to crucial public health programs, AHA staff and advocates worked hard to make sure this didn’t come to fruition. After months of email, calls, and meetings with elected officials, our hard work paid off and the cuts were rejected in the final budget. This means programs like the Hypertension Program, aimed at reducing rates of heart disease and stroke, will continue to get $692,000 in critical funding. Additionally, the Obesity/Diabetes Prevention Program received $5.9 million, which will help people in communities across the State live healthier lives. Lastly, our elected officials held steady funding aimed at tobacco cessation in the Tobacco Control Program.

As we look toward the rest of the legislative session, we have plenty of policy priorities to support. Here is what we will be focusing on:

  • Raising the minimum legal sales age of tobacco products to 21 through the passage of Tobacco 21.
  • Prohibiting flavored tobacco products which the tobacco industry targets to youth
  • Instituting healthy vending machines throughout state owned properties
  • Offering healthier, non-sugary beverages in children’s meals at restaurants


  • Join us on May 8 for Lobby Day at the New York State Capitol to push for the passage of Tobacco 21. Email me at Caitlin.Obrien@heart.org to learn more or sign up.
  • Take action when you get an email from You’re the Cure! With one click, you can let your legislator know that you support the American Heart Association’s initiatives.