The Blue Zones Umpqua Project is working to improve the health of people in Douglas County, and Tuesday night project representatives heard about the issues around local tobacco usage, with one of the highest percentages of smokers in the state. The group is trying to form strategies for creating a tobacco-free environment.

Rich Killingsworth, an associate professor at the University of Delaware and an advisor for the Blue Zones Project nationwide, talked about strategies to improve the tobacco usage rate at the Tobacco Policy Summit at the Community Cancer Center in Roseburg.

Killingsworth, who is the director of the Center for Public-Private Partnerships in Health at the university, told the group, “Tobacco is still the No. 1 killer in the U.S. and the only legal product that’s sold on the marketplace, that if used as intended will kill you, and we need to find ways to direct children away from that.”

Killingsworth talked about where we are globally, nationally and locally with tobacco, and ways to get the community engaged at a level where residents have ownership of what goes on with it.

The Blue Zones Project was initiated by the community for not only the health benefit, but also an economic benefit, says Killingsworth, from the reduced cost of health care that results from less tobacco-caused medical issues. But he added that they will need a buy-in from the entire community to make it work.

The Blue Zones Project Umpqua Tobacco Policy Summit was the last of five summits held by the group, and Juliete Palenshus, the Blue Zones engagement lead, said there was a diverse mixture of people at the summit.

“Rich is gathering information and the group is working on how we can combine some of that,” Palenshus said.

Killingsworth said Oregon has been progressive in trying to curb tobacco usage.

“Most other states aren’t there, for instance the prohibition on smoking in a vehicle with minors. That’s a pretty progressive policy that most states have avoided, and Oregon stepped up to the plate and identified that as a best practice and something that needs to be done, and most recently the passing of the 21 law,” Killingsworth said.

Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation in August that made Oregon the fifth state to make 21 the legal age for smoking.

“Oregon has demonstrated good leadership in that area, and this community is recognizing that tobacco is still the No. 1 killer in this nation and the state,” Killingsworth said.

But even with all the laws, the question is how to get people to stop smoking after they’ve started.

“For the predominant number of smokers, their orientation to it, is within their youth, and we know it’s much more difficult to get them to stop smoking than it is to prevent the smoking to occur to begin with,” Killingsworth said.

So a large part of the effort, he says, is to let the community to see what it’s going to take to prevent smoking from happening, and if they’re already smoking, what types of resources need to be made available to get them to stop, and if they continue to smoke, how to prevent others from being affected by the secondhand smoke.

“We’re trying to create an environment for all, a clean environment for people to make decisions on how to have a healthier life, especially for the youth,” Killingsworth said.

Smoking, he said, is a clear example of how knowledge doesn’t direct behavior, with almost everyone who smokes knowing the detrimental effects of tobacco. He said once they initiate the behavior, getting them to stop is not easy.

Killingsworth said the trend of smoking cigarettes is actually going down, but it’s being replaced by e-cigarette use, which the industry is marketing as a cessation product that will help prevent the use of tobacco.

“It isn’t necessarily healthier for you, there are still detrimental effects, it’s not just simply a vapor,” he said. “There is particulate matter that attaches to that vapor that causes harm to one’s body, and that’s what is not readily understood.”

Douglas County figures in the Oregon Health Authority’s Oregon Tobacco Facts publication from 2010 to 2013 showed 24.2 percent of adults in the county smoke. That was the sixth highest of any county in Oregon. The statistics show 12.6 percent of 11th-graders are already smoking and 8.5 percent of eighth-graders have started.

The information is in the Oregon Tobacco Facts document from the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division. It is available at https://public.health.oregon.gov/PreventionWellness/TobaccoPrevention/Pages/pubs.aspx.

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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