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Smoking rates stall in King County, while 1-in-4 12th graders uses tobacco

Reductions in adult smoking have stalled, according to a new Data Watch Report, “Tobacco use in King County,” and now an estimated 155,000 King County adults are cigarette smokers and an additional 26,000 use smokeless tobacco.

“To reduce smoking rates we need a comprehensive approach. We need to prevent people from smoking, help smokers quit, and limit second-hand smoke,” said King County Councilmember Joe McDermott who chairs the Board of Health. “In recent years, it has been a struggle to implement such a comprehensive approach as local governments have seen drastic cuts in funding.”
Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death nationally, and in King County it accounts for 1 in 5 deaths and $343 million annually in health care expenses and lost wages.
“Tobacco continues to steal the health of too many of our residents, and this report reminds us that we have more work to do, especially among our most vulnerable populations,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County.
Though King County has an overall smoking rate that is among the lowest in the country, the county has the most extreme smoking inequities of the 15 largest metropolitan counties in the United States.
According to the new “Tobacco use in King County” Data Watch Report:
  • After a nearly 50% decline from 1996 to 2007, smoking rates among adults flattened in the most recent 5 year period of 2007-2011. About 10% of King County adults smoke, plus an additional 2% use smokeless tobacco products.
  • More than 15,000 students (including 1 in 4 12th graders) used cigarettes or other tobacco products in the past month.
  • Adult smoking rates are highest among African-Americans, low-income residents and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) groups.
For youth, the highest smoking rates are among American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander and Latino youth. Youth also use alternative tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, snuff, dip, cigars, cigarillos and little cigars – many of which are flavored to taste like fruit, candy, or alcohol. In all, 50% of female and 67% of male tobacco users reported using multiple tobacco types.
”This report shows the effects of decades of tobacco industry marketing to people of color and vulnerable populations.  The Healthy King County Coalition has been making policy and system changes that will support healthy behaviors for years to come, but without statewide tobacco funding, our future efforts are seriously compromised,” said Shelley Cooper-Ashford, Director of the Center for MultiCultural Health and co-chair of the Healthy King County Coalition.
During the last two years as part of Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), a one-time federal stimulus-fund initiative, King County partners including schools, organizations and local governments have made community improvements to make healthy living easier.
Examples of the changes include:
  • 13 cities in King County now have tobacco or smoke-free parks, and many more are currently considering such policies
  • Over 13,000 affordable housing units are now smoke-free
  • Five school districts implemented alternative to suspension protocols for students found violating tobacco-free school policies
  • 128 Pridefest vendors and non-profit organizations adopted internal tobacco prevention policies
  • Four hospitals and 105 mental health and substance abuse treatment sites have tobacco-free policies and provide tobacco cessation support
  • 4 Korean churches in south King County implemented tobacco-free policies.
To learn more, visit:
Tobacco Prevention Program
Let’s Do This to create smoke-free places
Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General
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