Looking to 2018, Board of Health Takes Action on Several Items to Advance Equitable Health Outcomes in Spokane County

Dec 13, 2017

Members pass Legislative Agenda; a resolution that supports raising the minimum legal age for sales of tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21; agency’s 2018 budget; and more

SPOKANE, Wash. – In a series of unanimous votes this past week, Spokane Regional Health District’s (SRHD) Board of Health (BOH) passed several resolutions to advance prudent health policy in 2018. 

“This board is in a unique position to help promote policies that advocate for equitable health outcomes in the community,” said outgoing BOH Chair and City of Millwood Mayor, Kevin Freeman. “Although my term as chair is ending, I am proud to remain on the board and very optimistic that advancement of these resolutions will assist in ensuring that all people in our community have an equal opportunity to reach their health and wellness potential, regardless of their social, economic, or other circumstances.”  

The 2018 Legislative Agenda includes 10 issues of importance to the board. Chief among them was one issue critical enough to warrant its own resolution. Resolution #17-10 calls on the Washington State Legislature, and senators and representatives who represent the people of Spokane County, to raise the minimum legal age for sales of tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21.  

The resolution supports a statewide effort already in motion for adoption during the 2018 legislative session, Tobacco 21, led by American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. 

“Approximately 90 percent of adult smokers in the state begin smoking before the age of 21, which is also a critical period for young brains to develop. When you consider the potential damage that a highly addictive substance like nicotine can do to kids, delaying the age when young people can first experiment with or begin using tobacco makes perfect sense,” said Mary McHale, Washington Government Relations Director for American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “Youth deserve to grow up and not be addicted smokers—nor should they have to suffer the consequences, such as cancer. This is something everyone can support.”

The resolution calls upon other local government agencies, businesses, and not-for-profit organizations to adopt similar resolutions to show local support, as local jurisdictions, such as SRHD, cannot take action directly due to preemption under state law, which requires instead that the legislature act. 

The board of health cites that tobacco use remains a leading cause of preventable death in Washington state, contributing to 8,300 deaths annually and costing the state more than $5 billion a year in healthcare costs and lost productivity.  

The board also showed support for continued movement toward reforming the mental health/substance abuse system, including strides to improve deficits in the continuum of, and availability of, care for all members of the community. Board members will also seek opportunities to support increased access to, and coverage for, oral health services in the community, as well as expanding educational opportunities for dental professionals and exploring new categories of dental providers. 

The Legislative Agenda also highlights the need for additional assistance for, and increased data about, homeless youth; and in an effort to stem opioid misuse, the board is showing support for a statewide program to collect and dispose of unused medicines. 

Other issues that SRHD staff will monitor and share the importance of with BOH and local legislators include:

  • A tax on vaping products
  • An increase in tax on hazardous substances
  • An increase in lead-based paint certification fees
  • Efforts that support immunizations
  • Legislation to reduce educational opportunity gaps and increase graduation rates
  • Protecting and enhancing funding dedicated to marijuana education and prevention programs

Again, each issue can be viewed in more detail by viewing the full Legislative Agenda located here.  

The board also passed its 2018 agency budget for approximately $30 million, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. The increase is partly due to the agency’s expansion of its Opioid Treatment Program.    

The timing coincides with Spokane County Commission’s recent decision to reduce its allocation of health district funding by 17 percent, a reduction of $400,000.  

Said SRHD Administrator, Torney Smith, “Our role is to protect the health of the community, and this cut makes it harder to do that.” Concluded Smith, “Given this deficit, we may need to look to additional jurisdictions to increase local funding, as it’s one of the few ‘flexible’ funding sources the health district can use for some of its most critical work, such as monitoring the spread of flu locally.”   

The 12-member BOH includes the three Spokane County Commissioners, three Spokane City Council members, two Spokane Valley City Council members, one elected official representing the small cities of Spokane County, and three citizen representatives.

More information about the Spokane Regional Health District Board of Health and its recent resolutions can be found at www.srhd.org. SRHD’s website offers comprehensive, updated information about Spokane Regional Health District and its triumphs in making Spokane a safer and healthier community. Become a fan of SRHD on Facebook to receive local safety and wellness tips. You can also follow us on Twitter @spokanehealth.

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