Smoking inside homes on decline

From 2000 to 2008, the number has dropped 61 percent in Washington. That's more than twice the drop in adults who smoke.

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New research released last week by Washington state Department of Health shows the number of people smoking inside homes in the state has declined by 61 percent since 2000. The drop is more than double the overall decline in adult smoking during the same period.

The department's comprehensive Tobacco Prevention and Control Program is on target to meet its goal of reducing in-home secondhand smoke exposure to 6 percent or less by 2013.

Walla Walla County residents already boast an even lower number, a state spokesperson noted -- only five percent of those who smoke here report doing so inside their homes, according to a phone survey.

The new research confirms an encouraging trend, according to state Health Secretary Mary Selecky. The state rate dropped from 19.3 percent in 2000 when the program was established to just under eight percent in 2008, as determined by data gathered in 2008.

"This is good news for the health of people in our state," Selecky said. "As more homes adopt smoke-free rules, fewer kids will be at risk for respiratory infections and diseases like bronchitis. So more kids are growing up healthier and are less likely to start smoking."

However, despite the drop, an estimated 370,000 adults across the state still report someone smoking inside their home. People from low-income or low-education backgrounds are nearly twice as likely to report this is the case.

The Health Department is focused on reaching people who live in rental houses or apartments, which have a significantly higher percentage of low-income residents than owner-occupied homes, data shows. The rate of smoking inside the home among all renters is 12.5 percent. That's more than double the six percent rate among homeowners, said Sara Bru, tobacco prevention coordinator for Walla Walla County Public Health Department.

Apartments and similar housing pose the added concern of smoke drifting from one unit or balcony to the next. Smoke can enter through doors, windows, ventilation systems, plumbing and electrical outlets.

To encourage voluntary no-smoking policies, the Department of Health is reaching out to landlords and owners with information about the benefits of going smoke-free. This includes lower cleaning and repair costs and improved long-term property value. More information for landlords and owners is available on the Smoke Free Washington Web site (www.smokefreewashington.com). As well, local health departments can be a "tremendous" resource for property owners, Bru pointed out. "We have model letters (to send out) and we can guide them through that."

Secondhand smoke exposure is a preventable health hazard. Annually in the United States, it causes about 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart disease deaths among non-smokers. In 2009, the Institutes of Medicine released a report finding that secondhand smoke exposure can cause heart attacks. The report also found that smoke-free indoor air laws are an effective way to prevent heart attacks and save lives.

The Walla Walla County Public Health Department is intent on driving local percentages down further, Bru said. To that end, her staff plans to have a presence at community events and in the schools, making sure people have information about the dangers of second-hand smoke. "Especially with this new data. We really are in reach of our goal."

For more information call Bru at 524-2625.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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