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Originally published Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 3:46 PM

Budget cuts contribute to rising smoking rate

The state's percentage of adult smokers heads upward. There is a direct correlation between that bad health news and state budget cuts.

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WORD to cigarette smokers of Washington state: You are not only harming yourselves, you are smudging our reputation as a healthy, fresh-air, clean-living, no-smoking kind of place.

Washington's percentage of adult smokers jumped by a small amount, but the direction is completely wrong. Washington dropped from ranking third in the nation of lowest-smoking states to tied for 11th with Maryland, says the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Currently, 15.2 percent of adults in our state smoke, compared with 14.9 percent last year.

Washington has consistently ranked among states with the lowest rates, but now the numbers are edging upward.

Experts cite numerous reasons for the change, some of it having nothing to do with us. For example, other states that previously allowed smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars are now passing smoke-free laws.

But our state's tight budget is also a culprit, no doubt. The state's tobacco-prevention program, which is a proven success, has been cut dramatically in recent years.

Consider just one facet, the Tobacco Quit Line, a state-funded prevention program launched a decade ago. The phone service has provided expert advice and useful tools to some 150,000 people trying to kick the habit. But starting July 1, callers will no longer be able to get quit kits, over-the-phone help or nicotine replacement unless they are on Medicaid or have insurance.

And in 2009, the Legislature ended the state's anti-smoking advertising campaign.

Ads make a big difference, especially for teens and young adults who are influenced by plenty of pro-smoking ads paid for by tobacco companies peddling flavored cigarettes.

The state's anti-smoking effort, which works, is in ashes. A little bit of federal grant money supports some prevention work. But discouraging numbers from the CDC are a real concern because with more anti-smoking efforts cut this year, there is no reason to think the state's smoking rates will improve.


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