Smokers puffing up a storm in county

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Washington’s adult smoking rate hit a new low for the sixth consecutive year, according to the state Department of Health.
Results from the state’s most recent survey show the smoking rate has dropped to 15.3 percent — down from 16.5 percent the previous year. Washington has the sixth lowest smoking rate in the nation and is well below the national rate of 18.4 percent.
However, the news for Walla Walla County may not be as good.
The same self-reported survey shows the county’s smoking rate has jumped from about 14 percent to nearly 18 percent in 2008.
That could be due to changes in how the survey is done, said Harvey Crowder, administrator for Walla Walla County Public Health Department.
"This could be a one-time variance due to sampling, and I’m a little hesitant to call it a problem based upon one data point," he noted.
"We’ll continue doing what we’ve been doing and wait for next year’s (survey) results before we panic."
Walla Walla County rates have been "pretty steady" over the last four years, said Katie Redar, tobacco prevention coordinator with the county health department. "More cause for concern will be if the numbers continue to increase next year."
Encouraging, however, is that local youths have been reporting current smoking use at or below the state level, she added.
"Tobacco prevention and control is a priority in our state, and it’s paying off. Fewer people who smoke means fewer people suffering or dying from tobacco-related diseases. It also means our state will save billions of dollars in future health-care costs," said Gov. Chris Gregoire.
The adult smoking rate in Washington has dropped more than 30 percent since the state began its a prevention and control program in 2000. There are now 295,000 fewer people smoking in the state and an estimated 98,000 people will be spared early, tobacco-related deaths, officials say.
The decline in smoking will save an estimated $2.8 billion in future health-care costs. The state has reached its 10-year goal of reducing the adult smoking rate to 16.5 percent or less by 2010.
So the Department of Health has established a new goal of reducing adult smoking to 14 percent or less by 2013.
There are 770,000 adults who smoke in Washington; most are from either lower income or lower educational backgrounds, the department said.
Before the program, Washington had the 20th lowest smoking rate; it now ranks at No. 6, behind Utah, California, New Jersey, Maryland and Hawaii. Oregon ranks No. 10.
For more information, go to call the Washington State Tobacco Quit Line at1-800-QUIT-NOW or1-877-2NO- FUME for Spanish speakers. Or visit Quitline.com for free support.

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