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WA Debates Smoking Deterrents; Are They Right Ones?

PHOTO: Smoking could become a much more expensive habit in Washington if state lawmakers agree with Gov. Jay Inslee's proposal to raise the tobacco tax by 50 cents a pack. Photo credit: Nitrocephal/FeaturePics.com
PHOTO: Smoking could become a much more expensive habit in Washington if state lawmakers agree with Gov. Jay Inslee's proposal to raise the tobacco tax by 50 cents a pack. Photo credit: Nitrocephal/FeaturePics.com
February 20, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The Washington Legislature could make smoking more expensive, and raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. But one anti-tobacco group says those issues sidestep some key national findings about how to get people to quit smoking - or not start.

Carrie Nyssen, vice president of the American Lung Association's Mountain Pacific region, said any state needs a comprehensive tobacco-prevention program, high tobacco taxes and a smoke-free air policy to make real headway in reducing tobacco use. She said Washington hasn't been serious about funding prevention.

"We don't have any cigarette tax money that's funding tobacco-prevention programs; nor do we have a tobacco Master Settlement Agreement going toward that good work," she said. "It's just unacceptable, especially when our state receives so many millions of dollars from MSA and tobacco-tax revenue."

Nyssen testified this week in favor of raising the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack, with a request that more of the money go to prevention efforts. She said Washington spends less than $2 million a year on prevention.

The bill to raise the smoking age passed this week in the House Health Care Committee.

Meanwhile, new research shows that at any age, the consequences of smoking may be larger and deadlier than previous estimates.

The U.S. Surgeon General lists 21 causes of death attributable to smoking, with 480,000 deaths in the United States each year, including 8,000 in Washington. But a study co-authored by epidemiologist Brian Carter of the American Cancer Society has uncovered other bad news for smokers.

"We identified at least six new causes of death that we think are probably associated with smoking," Carter said, "and if you look at these as an aggregate, that would add about 60,000 deaths per year to that 480,000 number."

Carter said the additional smoking-related risks include kidney failure, hypertensive heart disease, infections and various respiratory diseases. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at data covering about 1 million people from 2000 to 2011.

The bills to raise the smoking age in Washington are HB 1458 and SB 5494.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA