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Smoking rate in Wisconsin hits all-time low

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Fewer Wisconsin adults are smoker than ever before, but the smoking rate is still higher than the national average, according to state health officials.

The state's overall smoking rate was 16 percent in 2017, a drop from 21 percent in 2011, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. But the state's rate is still above the national rate of 14 percent, Wisconsin Public Radio reported .

Still, Dona Wininsky of the American Lung Association in Wisconsin is optimistic.

"While that isn't necessarily great news for Wisconsinites, what is good news is that we're still on the downward trend. Our numbers here in Wisconsin are continuing to decline from over 30 percent, to 20 percent and lower," Wininsky said. "We were very excited when Wisconsin hit 18 percent a few years ago."

Low-income residents and African-Americans in the state continue to smoke at much higher rates, according to the department. And many young people have used e-cigarettes or flavored tobacco products

The agency's data show that 29 percent of residents making less than $25,000 a year smoke traditional cigarettes. Adequate sample sizes couldn't be captured for some populations, but the department estimated that the smoking prevalence for African-American residents was 28 percent between 2013 and 2017. The numbers have marginally decreased in recent years, but not as quickly as smoking overall in the state.

Still, small declines add up, said Lorraine Lathen, director of the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Poverty Network. She noted the smoking rate among African-American residents used to be at 31 percent.

"These declines are small victories that add up to larger victories," said Lathen, who also directs the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network

A fusion of grassroots efforts and innovative partnerships are aiming to bring resources into communities where there are more smokers. One example is a new federal rule implemented in July that requires smoke-free policies in all public housing.

Lathen cited how her organization talks with public housing residents in Milwaukee about the health benefits of quitting smoking. The organization also provides onsite cessation clinics where pharmacists inform residents about medications that can help people quit.

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