Inside Opinion

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Tag: smoking


Reality check on Pierce County health: Not so good

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

The results are in for Pierce County’s annual heath exam, and there’s no diplomatic way to put this: We’re in bad shape.

Of Washington’s 39 counties, Pierce ranked 26th and fared worse on almost every health metric in comparison to state and national results. This is according to the annual County Health Rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin.

Pierce rated worse than the other urban-suburban Puget Sound counties, far behind King (ranked sixth), Thurston (ninth) and Kitsap (15th). We fare more poorly than both the state and national measurements in such categories as rates for low-birth-weight babies, adult smoking and obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, teen births, higher education, violent crime and access to healthy food.

Compared to state and national results, we have more premature deaths and more poor physical and mental health days. More of us are unemployed, and we have more children in single-parent households – a key risk factor for poverty and a host of other problems.

About the only category Pierce County excels in is access to fast-food restaurants: 50 percent of us have access, compared to 46 percent statewide and 27 percent nationally. It’s a dubious achievement that – combined with less access to healthy food – could be playing into our higher obesity rate.

So what’s the takeaway here? Unfortunately, it’s not a good one. The results show the need for more public health outreach to low-income and underserved populations at a time when budget cuts probably will mean less will be done. For instance, nearly half of the county’s 12 walk-in family support centers face possible closure due to cuts in Medicaid administrative matching funds.
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Smokers should get graphic warnings of their risks

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

It’s one of the most addictive and lethal drugs that humans abuse, killing far more Americans every year – 440,000-plus – than all illegal drugs combined.

Tobacco – specifically in its most popular delivery system, cigarettes – also plays a major role in rising health costs. Lawmakers and health officials know they can’t outlaw tobacco; about 20 percent of American adults are addicted to it. So they’re trying to do the next best thing: Prevent as many young people from getting hooked and persuade as many smokers as they can to stop.

The best way to do that is to make cigarettes expensive; smoking rates drop a little every time cigarette taxes go up. But another strategy has been found effective in more than 20 countries: graphic health warnings on cigarette packages – ones so big, colorful and disturbing that smokers can’t miss them. Read more »


Studios show smoking isn’t needed for success

Jon Hamm stars in "Mad Men" (AMC)

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Don Draper, you dirty dog.

The “Mad Men” charmer smokes up a storm, as do many other characters – even a pregnant woman – in the AMC drama set in the world of 1960s Madison Avenue advertising. The show, which was just nominated for a slew of Emmys despite only so-so ratings, accurately reflects how people behaved back then, decades before smoking bans in workplaces.

The actors are actually puffing on herbal cigarettes, not tobacco. That’s the case in most movies and TV productions these days. But the message they send – especially to impressionable young people – is that smoking is cool. (The viewer usually doesn’t learn, after all, that the chain-smoking character may be well on the way to respiratory problems, lung cancer and a premature death.)

Research has shown that on-screen smoking influences young people’s decision whether to smoke. That’s an important consideration: Nearly 80 percent of adult smokers picked up the habit before age 18, and those who begin smoking at an early age have a harder time stopping.
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Tobacco use: Too expensive for U.S. health care

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Franciscan Health System – an empire of hospitals and medical clinics in Pierce and King counties – is about to take the big step from a no-smoking policy to a no-smoker policy.

To a nicotine addict seeking a job at, say, St. Joseph in Tacoma or St. Clare in Lakewood, it will be brutal. Although the rule won’t be applied retroactively to current employees, Franciscan will effectively be hanging out a “smokers need not apply” sign as of March 1.

Franciscan is far from alone. Some other large companies, such as Alaska Airlines, have had no-smoker policies in place for years. But health care organizations in particular have recently been moving to ban smoking – on or off the job – among their employees.

This is less a cause for celebration or criticism than it is a simple inevitability. Like many smokers themselves, America can no longer afford cigarettes.

The U.S. Centers of Disease Control has estimated that tobacco creates a $193 billion-a-year drag on the U.S. economy. It pegged the cost of treating nicotine-driven diseases at roughly $96 billion. Another $97 million resulted from lost productivity – absenteeism, impaired workplace performance, etc.
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