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US Surgeon General In Seattle To Lead Town Hall

Ruby de Luna

The US Surgeon General will be in Seattle Thursday. Dr. Regina Benjamin is scheduled to lead a Town Hall meeting on youth and tobacco use. As KUOW's Ruby de Luna reports, health officials continue to struggle to reduce smoking rates among youth.


According to a new report by Seattle–King County Public Health, smoking among middle and high school students is 15 percent. The highest rates are among Native American, Pacific Islander, and Latino youth.

Neal: "It's still much too common."

Scott Neal manages the county's Tobacco Prevention Program. He says many teens are using other products like chewing tobacco, snuff and little cigars. Those products are often flavored to taste like fruit or candy. The report also notes tobacco use increases with age.

Neal says there are different reasons why tobacco use is still high among youth. For one, tobacco companies have bigger marketing budgets that are hard to match. Kids don't always buy cigarette from stores; they find other ways to get them.

Neal: "Through their friends, or through their adults, or through parents, whether they're stealing or they're asking other people to buy it for them, so it's not just a retail problem — although that is a big significant focal point — but it's also a community problem."

Neal wants to see more funding for tobacco prevention. It's not that there's no money; Washington has a cigarette tax. Also, there are annual payments from tobacco companies from a national settlement in 1998, but most of that money has been diverted to the state's general fund.

Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death nationwide. Health officials say it's worth it to invest in prevention now, otherwise the state will pay more in health care costs later.

I'm Ruby de Luna, KUOW News.

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