State's decline in smoking rate positive sign

But Washington, with the third-lowest adult-smoking rate, can still do better.

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Washington state has wisely put a lot of resources and effort into smoking prevention. The focus has been on keeping young people from starting to smoke and helping smokers quit.

As a result, this state now has the third-lowest adult-smoking rate in the nation, down from No. 6 last year.

Currently, 14.8 percent of adults in the state smoke. This is down from 15.3 percent last year -- the lowest rate since 1995, when states began measuring and comparing smoking rates, according to the Washington State Department of Health

A major reason is the state's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program started in 2000. It has been funded in large part with money the state received in the settlement tobacco companies made with several states. That effort was led by Chris Gregoire, who was then state attorney general.

Ironically, the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program could be stronger if state lawmakers had not used some of that money to plug budget holes. In 2002, when the state was faced with a $1.5 billion budget shortfall, the Legislature authorized revenue bonds backed by part of the state's portion of the revenue stream from the settlement. The future payments were essentially sold off for pennies on the dollar.

We thought it was a mistake then, and we continue to believe it was a mistake despite the state's success in curbing smoking.

Nevertheless, the state has taken other actions that have helped to reduce smoking.

Washington bans smoking in almost all buildings as well as restaurants and bars. The state also has the nation's third highest cigarette tax -- over $3 per pack -- that has made smoking so expensive many have had no choice but to quit.

We've come out strongly in favor of the ban on smoking in public places and raising the cigarette tax.

Study after study shows that tobacco use causes cancer and other serious health problems that result in death. The use of tobacco is simply not safe nor is there any way tobacco can be used safely.

The dollar cost is also very high as smoking-related health problems drives up national medical-care spending.

More has to be done to reduce smoking.

Utah has the lowest smoking rate at just less than 12 percent while California is No. 2 at just over 13 percent.

Washington can -- and should -- do more to reduce smoking. Being No. 1 in this category must be the goal.

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