King County adult smoking rate stalls, but concerns linger for teenage smokers

May 31, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 9 a.m. May 31, 2012

The adult smoking rate in King County stalled between 2007 and 2011, but tobacco use still accounts for 1 in 5 deaths countywide and $343 million each year in health care expenses and lost wages.

The information comes from a Public Health – Seattle & King County report about tobacco use. Officials released the document Thursday to mark World No Tobacco Day.

Between 1996 and 2007, smoking rates among adults declined almost 50 percent. In the most recent period, 2007-11, the rate flattened. The report estimates 155,000 King County adults — or about 10 percent of adults — smoke cigarettes and another 26,000 adults use smokeless tobacco.

Though the overall smoking rate in King County is among the lowest in United States, the county has the most extreme smoking inequities among the 15 largest metropolitan counties in the United States.

“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,” Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said in a statement.

The smoking rate among black or multiple race adults is double the rate among whites. A King County adult in a low-income household is three times more likely to be a smoker than high-income household adult. Countywide, 19 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender adults smoke — almost double the county average.

The report estimated more than 15,000 students — including 1 in 4 high school seniors — used cigarettes or other tobacco products in the past month.

Youths also use alternative tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco, snuff, dip, cigars, cigarillos and little cigars — including varieties flavored to taste like fruit, candy or alcohol.

“To reduce smoking rates we need a comprehensive approach. We need to prevent people from smoking, help smokers quit and limit second-hand smoke,” King County councilman and Board of Health Chairman Joe McDermott said in a statement. “In recent years, it has been a struggle to implement such a comprehensive approach as local governments have seen drastic cuts in funding.”

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