Florida Universities Waived Rules and Regulations for Caribbean ScholarsFollowing a request from Governor Rick Scott, Florida schools have waived their rules and regulations for Caribbean scholars who have been left deprived and affected by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. State Education Commissioner, Pam Stewart was one of the signees of the order for students from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean nations.

In a public address, Stewart announced, “Entire communities were destroyed, and we do not know how long it will take to restore schools and other essential infrastructure…It is critical that these students and teachers have the opportunity to participate in our state’s outstanding public education system. We are pleased to remove barriers to enrollment and help these students and teachers return to the classroom.”

As of now, students from the islands are able to continue their classes and permeate into the Florida public school curriculums without their birth certificates, official transcripts and health forms that transfer students would traditionally be required to have. Also, those who are seeking teaching positions are being given the opportunity to apply without their health records and age verifications, along with proof of degree-attainment and subject-mastery documentation. The federal government has obliged school districts to label students affected by hurricanes as “homeless” to allow the students to be eligible for free meals and more accessible transportation.

Futhermore, some public colleges in Florida have agreed to offer in-state tuition to affected Caribbean students. These colleges include: Broward College, Hillsborough Community College, Miami Dade College, Palm Beach State College, Seminole State College of Florida, the University of Central Florida, Valencia College and St. Petersburg College.

In a statement made by Scott, the governor claimed he wanted to, “ensure students from Puerto Rico can more easily continue their education here in Florida and that teachers from Puerto Rico have every opportunity to continue to succeed in their careers.” He also pointed out that, “as families work to rebuild their lives following the unbelievable devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, we are doing everything we can to help them throughout this process.”

While their education is furthered in the U.S., many of the students wish for recovery for their respective homes. However, because these Florida schools have waived their rules and regulations for Caribbean scholars affected by the hurricanes, many students are able to continue following their dreams and their career paths. Without initiatives like these, many hurricane victims would have to be stuck on pause until the recovery of their homes.

Jalil Perry

Photo: Flickr

tobacco control measures
Global public health policy has taken a step in the wrong direction as negotiations continue between the United States and 11 other countries regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

The United States Trade Representative (USTR), the primary U.S. governmental agency responsible for negotiating international trade policy, recently abandoned its stance that would have tightened regulations for tobacco companies regarding their ability to challenge domestic tobacco control measures.

The USTR’s backpedaling has enormous public health ramifications globally. According to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), over 1 billion people worldwide will die this century as a result of tobacco. That’s 11 percent of the globe’s population.

The USTR initially proposed language in the TPP that would have created “safe harbors” so that domestic tobacco control measures could not be challenged by the tobacco industry. Increasingly, “Big Tobacco” and its allies are using international trade agreements to dispute local tobacco control laws. For example, in Australia, tobacco companies are challenging the legitimacy of the country’s law requiring that cigarettes can only be sold in plain packaging. While in Uruguay, Philip Morris International is protesting the nation’s statute regarding the use of large, graphic health warnings on its packaging.

Moreover, the new USTR proposal does not even recognize tobacco as a uniquely harmful product that should be regulated differently than mangoes or coffee beans or some other generally benign commodity. The ruling fails to recognize the overwhelming global support for increased tobacco control measures. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which 177 countries have ratified, explicitly states that signatories are obligated to implement more stringent tobacco control measures.

Embarrassingly, the United States has not ratified the FCTC and appears to be headed in the exact opposite direction from the rest of the world on this matter. It comes down to a cost-benefit analysis – apparently the $145 billion of annual tobacco related revenue is worth more to U.S. policymakers than the health and well-being of billions of people worldwide.

The public health ramifications are particularly stark for people living in the developing world, where 49 percent of men use tobacco. Eleven percent of women in the developing world use tobacco products, and that figure is on the rise. The long-term health costs associated with tobacco related illness and disease for these individuals is astronomical.

The interconnectedness of public health and poverty alleviation is clear. A healthy population is much more likely to experience improved economic conditions than one that is hampered with enormous health care costs that they cannot afford.

As Dr. Oleg Chestnov, Assistant Director-General of the WHO, stated, “We have the tools and we have the will. Millions of lives stand to be saved–we must act together and we must act now.” His optimistic view is inspiring, but the USTR’s ruling on the TPP is certainly not helping his cause.

– Aaron Faust

Sources: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, World Health Organization, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Council on Foreign Relations
Photo: CCTV