Tuesday’s editorial in The Seattle Times focuses on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s report linking tobacco use to health risks. Please read it and help raise awareness about this public health crisis. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in King County and Washington state. And we can do something about it.
It doesn’t matter that about 88 percent of King County residents don’t use tobacco. We still have to worry about the 12 percent who do. They are the targets of the tobacco industry’s robust marketing campaigns. Low-income people are more likely to take up the habit, as are minorities and the less educated.
Nearly 4,800 kids take up smoking every year and 244,000 more minors are exposed to second-hand smoke at home. In Washington state, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reports 7,600 people die every year from tobacco use; about 124,000 under the age of 18 will die prematurely from smoking. Click on this link to see more disturbing statistics, including estimates that annual health care costs in Washington caused by smoking has reached nearly $2 billion.
Here are five charts from a 2012 King County Public Health Data Watch report that prove why further action is necessary to stamp out persistent tobacco use:
1. Minority populations are more likely to smoke. Though Asians make up five percent of the whole, health advocates point out the percentages are much higher within sub-groups. For instance, according to county data from 2004 to 2008, smoking rates among Korean men was 28.4 percent; 45.2 percent among Vietnamese men.
2. King County reports smoking rates declined by half between 1996 and 2007, but those declines have leveled off in recent years. In 2009, the state started diverting more funds from a major 1998 tobacco settlement agreement to plug holes in the state budget.
3. Most smokers start smoking in their youth and the youth shown in this chart could become lifelong smokers. As students get closer to graduation, more are likely to report they have tried tobacco.
4. King County reports highest cigarette usage among American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Latino youth. A higher percentage of these youth live in southern King County, where there are fewer smoke-free policies in parks, fewer colleges and more cultural acceptance of smoking.
5. This graphic shows some extreme disparities. Those who make $25,000 or less are much more likely to smoke compared with high-wage earners. Those who don’t finish high school are five times more likely than college graduates to smoke. Finally, unemployed and disabled workers are way more likely to take up the habit.
Last year, the state spent about $756,000 on prevention, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. That’s about one percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended expenditure of $67.3 million and far less than the $2.5 million Washington state spent in the previous fiscal year.
Combating advertisements and changing behavioral norms through smoke-free policies can only go so far. The state must also invest in prevention and quitting programs that are culturally sensitive and accessible to those who are most likely to smoke. That’s why news of a pending settlement check headed Washington’s way should be viewed as a chance to rebuild and help people make healthy choices.
As stated in The Times’ editorial, awareness should lead to action:
Reductions in adult smoking have leveled off.
A $10.5 million tobacco settlement check is on its way to Washington. This is an opportunity to rebuild a comprehensive prevention program. For every dollar spent, the state saves $5 in hospital costs. Legislators may be tempted to direct that money to other causes. They shouldn’t.