Fifty years ago, 42 percent of U.S. adults regularly smoked. The habit had been shown to cause lung cancer in 1950, but it wasn’t until the Surgeon General’s January 1964 report Smoking and Health that the U.S. government formally acknowledged the link between tobacco and cancer.
Since then, clean air laws, marketing and sales restrictions, tobacco taxes, smoke-free environments and treatment programs cut the U.S. smoking rate to 19 percent. Americans today live up to 20 years longer than we did 50 years ago and 8 million people have avoided dying prematurely from smoking, according to a recent study in the American Medical Association.
Multnomah County residents did their part.
Local Policy Efforts Clear the Air
“Multnomah County has made great strides in tobacco prevention and control efforts,” says Wendy Rankin, former Multnomah County Health Department tobacco prevention manager. “We’ve made environments safer and clear of secondhand smoke for everyone. Some Multnomah County policy work set statewide momentum for policy change.”
- September 1995 - Concerned citizens established the Multnomah County Tobacco Prevention Coalition including the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, Adventist Health, Portland Public Schools, Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board and Providence Health & Services.
- November 1999 - The Multnomah County Board of County Commissioners passed Ordinance 937 making all restaurants/workplaces smoke-free except bars, bingo halls, bowling centers, which can allow smoking in break rooms.
- August 2003 - City taxicabs go smokefree: The city of Portland makes it illegal for drivers and customers to smoke in any taxicab licensed by the city.
- September 2005 – TriMet bus shelters and most MAX stations go smokefree.
- July 2007 - The Oregon Legislature strengthens the statewide smokefree workplace law to include all bars, break rooms, bingo halls and bowling alleys.
- September 2007 - Oregon Health & Science University implements smoke-free policy
- 2008 Guardian Management Propertie implements policy to make all the units it manages smoke free.
- January 2009 - Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act (ICAA) enacted after Multnomah County Health Department Tobacco Prevention and Education Program Coalition and partners, including the Asian Family Center, Lifeworks NW, Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest, Inc., Native American Youth and Family Center, Urban League of Portland, African American Health Coalition, Inc., and state partners including the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Heart Association, testified and provided education to the legislature. The law banned smoking in most public places including a 10-foot zone.
- July 2009 - Home Forward’s Board of Commissioners approved a plan to make all its properties smoke-free.
- January 2008 to January 2012 - Multnomah County staff, along with coalition members, helped many organizations adopt 100 percent tobacco-free policies. Those organizations include Boeing, Jeld-Wen Field, Portland Community College, Mt. Hood Community College, all Metro properties (Zoo, Expo Center, Convention Center, Regional Parks and other properties), and TriMet.
- July 2012 - Multnomah County Board of County Commissioners unanimously adopt tobacco-free properties for all Multnomah County-owned facilities.
More Work to Do
“We have made strides, but we have more work to do,” says Multnomah County Health Officer Justin Denny. “Tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death in Oregon. In Multnomah County alone, it costs us more than $1 million a day in medical care and lost productivity. That’s not acceptable.”
On Friday, Jan. 17, Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak said the current deaths and illness can be traced to the aggressive strategies of the tobacco industry. Tobacco companies now spend more than $24 million a day – or more than $1 million an hour day – on marketing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions Economic Facts about U.S. Tobacco Production and Use.
Preventing Tobacco Use Before it Starts
The Multnomah County Health Department is working to counter that barrage with the It Starts Here “Sweet Deceit” campaign. The campaign warns teen-agers and their parents about the health consequences of tobacco use, educates about the role that tobacco industry marketing and advertising play in encouraging children and young adults to start using and keep using tobacco, and raises community awareness about the dangers of fruit and candy flavored tobacco products and their appeal to young people.
According to the Surgeon General’s 2012 Report: Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, nearly 90 percent of smokers begin smoking at or before the age of 18.
Multnomah County Health Department’s Communications and Policy Lead Coordinator Adelle Adams says, “That’s why it’s so important to raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco products and especially about the marketing and advertising tactics used by the tobacco industry.”
“They need replacement smokers to replace the 1,200 smokers who die every day in the United States and their sweet fruit and candy flavored tobacco products are very appealing to youth,” Adams says.
The Multnomah County Health Department is currently developing phase two of the Sweet Deceit Campaign, which will be aimed at young adults ages 18-26.