Tobacco use soars among teens

Increasing numbers of youth who smoke, as well as a lack of health care insurance for more than 750,000 adults in Washington, remain two key issues in Washington state health care policy.

In an independent policy analysis, the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy institute, looked at the current state of health care insurance in Washington, the extent of tobacco use, and the elements of Initiative 773, a health care insurance/tobacco prevention and control initiative that addresses these issues. Statewide Initiative 773 will be before the voters in November 2001.

The current status of health care coverage and tobacco usage among youth reflects the growing problem in the state:

  • Every year, more than 8,000 deaths in Washington are attributable to smoking; smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
  • In Washington, smoking-related medical expenditures totaled $1.15 billion in 1993.
  • In Washington, 15% of 8th graders, 25% of 10th graders, and 29% of 12th graders smoke. (1999 data)
  • The number of high school seniors who smoke increased 38% between 1990 and 1998.
  • The state legislature’s cap on funding for the Basic Health Plan (BHP) allows a maximum of 125,000 people to participate; an additional 412,000 low-income individuals remain uninsured. Nationally, 70% of individuals without health insurance are from working families.

Initiative 773 proposes a 60-cent increase in the cost of a pack of cigarettes. The funding would be used to increase the number of people with health care coverage and decrease the number of smokers by increasing cigarette prices and restoring full funding to the state’s tobacco prevention and control program.

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