Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in King County and Washington state. As the editorial board argued in this Jan. 13 editorial, smoking rates have declined, but wide health disparities persist between smokers and non-smokers. Here’s a previous Opinion Northwest blog post with charts illustrating the problem.
Smoking prevention and cessation efforts nationwide and in Washington should focus on populations more likely to smoke, including the less-educated, low-income, ethnic minority groups and people suffering from mental illness.
Last Friday, acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak unveiled a new list of illnesses caused by smoking and tobacco use. The photos below are from the latest report’s executive summary. (Read this related news story in The Seattle Times.)
Health problems highlighted in red are new associations, including chronic diseases such as macular degeneration, congenital defects and orofacial clefts in babies, tuberculosis, diabetes, ectopic pregnancy, erectile dysfunction in men, rheumatoid arthritis and immunal dysfunction. The surgeon general also added liver and colorectal cancers to the list of consequences.
With regard to secondhand smoke, public health officials have added strokes in adults to the list of health consequences:
The national smoking rate declined from 42 percent in 1965 to 18 percent in 2012. That’s significant progress, but 42 million Americans still smoke. Overall, the surgeon general estimates 20 million people have died prematurely since the original surgeon general’s report was released in 1964. That landmark study identified tobacco use as a major public health issue worthy of government intervention.
Washington state has drastically reduced funding for tobacco control and cessation, from $2.5 million two years ago to less than $800,000 in 2013. So long as lawmakers keep diverting taxes collected from tobacco revenues, taxpayers can expect to continue to foot the bill for health care costs related to smoking. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, annual health care costs in Washington caused by smoking add up to $2 billion annually; $651 million of that total is covered by Medicaid. The smoking-related loss in productivity is estimated at $1.8 billion. The federal and state tax burden is about $615 per household.
Meanwhile, the tobacco industry spends about $88 million to market its products to new users statewide.
That’s not a fair trade.