Collaboration in Civic Spheres

U.S. young adults reach a new low – in smoking

by Matt Rosenberg November 15th, 2012

For the first time since standardized data began to be collected in 1965, young adults – aged 18 to 24 – last year bested all U.S. adults in percent not smoking, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and historical U.S. data. From 2005 though 2011 prevalence of cigarette smoking among the U.S. adult population has declined only slightly, from about 21 percent to 19 percent. But a bright spot is young adults, for whom the rate in that period dropped from 24.4 percent to 18.9.

The news comes in a new research brief issued by the U.S. Centers For Disease Control just last week in its journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. In years past, young adults smoked more than all adults in the U.S. A National Institutes of Health report drawing on CDC and other U.S. government data found that overall, 41.9 percent of adults were “current smokers” in 1965 versus 20.9 percent by 2005. That’s currently defined as having smoked at least 100 cigarettes overall, and still smoking on at least some days (the first part of the definition has changed slightly over the years). In contrast, according to a 2007 medical journal article by a CDC expert, the U.S. young adult percent of “current smokers” declined from 45.5 percent in 1965 to 24.5 percent in 2005.

But as the new CDC report shows, by 2011, young adult smoking prevalence had dropped just slightly below that of all adults in the U.S., as it continued to decline steadily from 2005 forward.

Rates of different age groups, 2005-2011, from Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults - United States, 2011, U.S. Centers For Disease Control, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, November 9, 2012

A 2008 University of California study suggests possible reasons. It noted that in recent years, young adults who did start smoking were more likely to succeed at quitting because they smoked fewer cigarettes per day than older smokers, relied less on pharmaceutical interventions, and were more often exposed to smoke-free environments in their teen and early adult years, when it is easier to quit.

Other findings for 2011, according to the new report:

Among racial groups in the U.S., Asians had lowest adult smoking prevalence rate in 2011 (9.9 percent) and American Indians/Alaska Natives the highest at 31.5 percent. Adults 25 to 44 years old and 45 to 64 had the highest rates of smoking and those over 64 the lowest. Of those living below the poverty level, 29 percent were smokers versus 17.9 percent for those at or above poverty level. One quarter of adults who reported they had a disability were smokers in 2011 versus 17.3 percent of those with no disability. More men were smokers than women in 2011, 21.6 percent versus 16.5 percent.

Of the 43.8 million American adult “current smokers,” more than three quarters smoked every day in 2011. They typically smoked 15.1 cigarettes per day in 2011, down from 16.7 in 2005.

The national projections are based on interviews of participants in the 2011 National Health Interview Survey, with the resulting data run through a number of statistical checks and balances, described in the report, to enhance the validity of the final results. Smoking status in the survey results is self-reported by respondents – but the CDC stresses research has shown that “correlates highly with measured serum cotinine levels,” an indicator of smoking.

Although there was good news about young adult smoking, challenges remain for the broader adult population. Its 2011 rate of current smoking is 19 percent but the nation’s “Healthy People 2020″ program goal is 12 percent. The report says meeting the goal will require “extensive implementation of evidence-based interventions” including higher cigarette prices, more legally-mandated smoke-free work places and public places, and expansion of quit support services, anti-tobacco media campaigns, and restrictions on tobacco advertising and marketing.

The U.S. adult smoking rate could drop more sharply following the implementation earlier this year of a federally-sponsored national media campaign “which included graphic personal stories on the adverse health impact of smoking,” the report states.

State support for intervention remains very mixed, however. The report says 27 U.S. states fund their tobacco control programs at less than 25 percent of CDC-recommended levels.

The new CDC report says that tobacco use (which includes smokeless tobacco products and cigars) “remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States,” ending about 443,000 adult lives annually while imposing $96 billion in annual direct medical costs and $97 billion in yearly lost productivity.

Through reduced incidence of certain types of disease, and other public health benefits, researchers have found a 5-to-1 return on investment from smoking cessation programs in Washington state. One newer approach to public education – unveiled in King County last year – is community-based video storytelling on the benefits of a healthier diet and not smoking, through a CDC program implemented by Public Health – Seattle-King County, and local non-profits.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

A bright future for Mom ‘n Pop pot shops in Washington?

by Matt Rosenberg November 14th, 2012

It’s entirely possible the U.S. will just chillax on possible prosecutions for marijuana use allowed in states now to include Washington, where voters last week approved medicinal or recreational adult use of an ounce or less starting in a few weeks, and levying a 25 percent tax on authorized sales once rules are adopted. But anything much like a big industrial marijuana sales operation with a state’s OK is likely to get the gimlet eye from federal prosecutors. These are among the key suggestions in a new report from the Congressional Research Service issued late last week after Washington and Colorado voters liberalized their state marijuana laws.

Officially, it’s not clear yet what the federal response will be to Washington’s Initiative 502, which passed by an 11-point margin. As the Seattle Times reported last week, options include contesting individual usage under U.S. law, or challenging the very concept of licensed sales, which will ensue from state guidelines issued a year from now. But the CRS report, which is national in scope and accents key U.S. Justice Department documents, quietly suggests the feds may be looking for a nuanced middle ground in states such as Washington.

Cities may seek more delays on green fleet conversion

by John Stang November 9th, 2012

Does the lobbying organization for Washington’s cities want to push against a 2018 deadline to convert municipal vehicles to use alternative fuels? The Association of Washington Cities is pondering that question, and expects to be making a decision in early December, said Dave Williams, the organization’s director of state and federal relations. The next legislative session starts in early January, with education funding and another multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall both front and center. But a recent AWC draft memo to members stresses local concerns about rising fiscal pressures on cities, infrastructure and jobs concerns, and state mandates. It says a possible priority in the 2013 legislative session starting in January is to “further delay the deadline or modify the mandate for conversion of local government fleets to alternative fuel vehicles” past 2018.

Metro’s share of King County’s big tort payouts spikes in Q3

by Matt Rosenberg November 8th, 2012

King County Metro Transit was responsible for 71 percent of third quarter 2012 large negligence claim settlements paid by the county, according to a newly issued report. Metro’s share of those payouts is up from 50 percent for the first two quarters of the year, and just more than one-quarter of the total last year. A county ordinance requires quarterly online disclosure of large tort settlements, but that hasn’t happened and there’s no related public database. The data, when issued, can be found through a somewhat obscure county information portal including links to legislation and reports.

As it does every quarter of the year, King County this summer settled a series of what it classifies as major negligence, or tort, claims – those of $100,000 or more. The county is self-insured and pays all claims from a special fund of its own, except those over $7.5 million, for which it has outside insurance. County tort payouts in the third quarter of this year totaled more than $1.4 million dollars. Exactly $1 million or 71 percent of that amount stemmed from mishaps involving the county’s Metro bus system, according to a new Q1 through Q3 2012 tort payouts report to the King County Council from Jennifer Hills, the Director of the Office of Risk Management. The 71 percent share for Metro of the county’s large negligence claim payouts in Q3 compares to 50 percent for Metro in the first two quarters of the year combined; versus just more than one quarter of the county total for Metro in 2011; and nearly two-thirds in 2010, as we reported earlier this year.

South King County votes to decide on new schools, more

by Matt Rosenberg November 6th, 2012

Among local ballot measures likely to be decided tonight in suburban King County are a major annexation proposal in Renton, funding for new high schools in Federal Way and Auburn, a new fire station for Mercer Island, and a possibly a new form of governance for Black Diamond, where a development-related feud has grown between the current mayor and city council.

UPDATE, 11/6/12, 8:30 p.m.: Systemic change didn’t fare well in our five tracked local ballot measures, with proposals for a new form of governance in Black Diamond, and a major annexation to Renton both losing, with unofficial final numbers in. But more routine proposals for increased spending to build new schools or other civic structures appear to have won with broad support in Auburn, Federal Way, and Mercer Island. Update, 9:57 p.m. 11/7/12: Three-quarters of King County ballots overall are counted now. Latest numbers below, courtesy of King County elections.

Proposition 1 in Renton would have led to annexation to the city of the 1,857-acre West Hill region currently part of unincorporated King County. 11/6/12, 8:30 p.m. update – 55% No, 45 % Yes. 11/6/12, 9:22 p.m. update: Paul Berry, a 43-year West Hill resident who co-wrote the Voter’s Pamphlet statement in opposition to annexation said of the results, “People of the community didn’t buy the general and vague promises” annexation would bring improvements. For any future measure annexing West Hill to Renton to pass, several things would have to happen, Berry said. Strong, smart regional approaches to providing police and fire service would need to implemented; plans for upscale development, more sidewalks and urban density softened, and city codes tweaked to be less restrictive on allowing chickens and multiple pets. West Hill contains six neighborhoods, and would have comprised about 15 percent of Renton’s population if annexed. (Map of annexation area).

Proposition 1 in Auburn authorizes School District 408 to levy excess property taxes to fund $110 million in borrowing via bonds over 20 years, to finance construction of a new Auburn High School, and improvements to the high school’s Performing Arts Center and Automotive Technology building. 8:30 p.m. update – 59% Yes, 41% No.

Proposition 1 in Federal Way School District 210 green-lights a six-year, $60 million capital levy to pay for replacing Federal Way High School, plus renovation of 19 elementary school playgrounds, and a new district-wide security camera system. The added cost in each of the six years for school district property owners would be 92 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation. 11/6/12, 8:30 p.m. update – 57% Yes, 43% No.

Proposition 1 in Black Diamond would have OKd a change in the way the city is governed, from the current Mayor-Council form of government to a Council-Manager system. If it had been approved, a new city manager reporting to the council, would have become the chief executive of the city and the office of the mayor, who currently serves as the city’s CEO, would have ben abolished. A planned Yarrow Bay Company development of 6,000 new homes planned for the small city of about 4,160 residents has contributed to a sharp political divide between some members of the current council and mayor Rebecca Olness. But the measure appears to have fallen far short. 11/6/12, 8:30 p.m. update – 59% No, 41% Yes. 11/6/12, 9:40 p.m. update: Olness said, “I’m elated the people of Black Diamond have voiced their support for growth. We need to grow in order to survive,” to boost the local tax base and attract retail essentials such as a major grocery store. The Yarrow Bay development will unfold gradually over the next 20 to 25 years Olness said, with the first several hundred homes built in 2014.

Proposition 1 in Mercer Island will finance a $5.2 million bond issue for a replacement fire station in the South End, through a lift of the state-mandated local tax levy increase lid of 1 percent per year. If the majority of “yes” votes holds, property owners will pay another 86 cents to $1.51 per $1,000 assessed valuation each year, with the rate differing by year, over nine years. 11/6/12, 8:30 p.m. update – 56% Yes, 44% No.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

UW study: tattoo snags may mimic diseases, but don’t panic

by Matt Rosenberg November 6th, 2012

In a new study published in a medical journal, a University of Washington dermatologist warns tattoo seekers to beware of possible bacterial complications which can result from variances in types of tattoo inks and practices used, and worrisome-looking symptoms that mimic non-Hodgkins lymphoma, or non-melanoma skin cancer and lupus. But despite these more dire appearances, writes Dr. Michi M. Shinohara, typically the problem is an infection that can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Meanwhile, there are definitely some questions you need to ask your tattoo artist before going under the needle.

Seattle region ranks 2nd of 33 in U.S. suicide attempts

by Matt Rosenberg November 4th, 2012

The Seattle metro region is a hotspot for suicide attempts, according to a newly released federal report drawn from data in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The report, titled “Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior in 33 Metropolitan Statistical Areas: 2008 to 2010,” was released just last week by a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It finds that among the 33 regions assessed, only Dallas ranked higher than Seattle in the rate of actual annual suicide attempts for those 18 and older.

Auditor: state-funded EMS council bilked of $389K by boss

by Matt Rosenberg November 4th, 2012

The longtime Executive Director of a state-funded non-profit emergency medical services and trauma care council in Western Washington over six years bilked the agency out of almost $400,000 by writing herself extra paychecks, plus “operations and planning” stipends, and other unauthorized payments and excessive reimbursements. So asserts Washington State auditor Brian Sonntag in a fraud investigation report released November 1. It details the actions of Anice J. Grant while she worked for the Northwest Region Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Care Council. The council is one of eight statewide which coordinate first response to accidents, and related public and professional education programs. Its members include representatives of emergency medical and trauma care providers in Kitsap, Mason, Jefferson and Clallam counties.

According to Sonntag’s report, the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is now probing the case and it has also been forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. U.S. authorities have been notified because federal funds, passed through the Washington State Department of Health, helped fund the council. Though Grant is not named in the fraud investigation report, board meeting minutes and an interview with the council board chairman reveal her as the subject.