By Jim Gogek
These days, Californians don’t hear a lot of good news about our state, not with budget cuts decimating our once vaunted education system, our parks and other public services. But one thing we’ve done right is quit smoking. My state is a world leader in reducing tobacco use, and other states and countries should follow our lead.
The most recent reporting shows that adult smoking is down to 13.1 percent in California, a drop from 22.7 percent in 1988 and much lower than the national average.
A Gallup poll that asked adults “Do you smoke?” found that about 21 percent answered affirmatively across the nation. That poll found that adult smoking tends to be lower in states where cigarette taxes and education levels are higher. The smokiest states are Kentucky and West Virginia, where 31 percent of adults smoke.
California’s success is due to its comprehensive tobacco control program that began in 1988 when voters approved Proposition 99, which increased cigarette taxes by 25 cents a pack, most of which is spent on tobacco control. Since Prop. 99, California’s declining smoking rate saved 1 million lives. The California Tobacco Control Program (CTCP) credits
“…grassroots programs designed and implemented by local health departments, community coalitions and organizations, statewide projects, ethnic networks, schools, and a statewide mass media campaign…”
But the most important factor was when California became the first state to go
smoke-free, beginning in 1995. A whole generation of Californians has grown up having never smelled indoor cigarette smoke. It began with the California Smokefree Workplace Act, which stated:
“No employer shall knowingly or intentionally permit, and no person shall engage in, the smoking of tobacco products in an enclosed space at a place of employment.”
Next to higher taxes, smoke-free public places and workplaces are the biggest motivation for quitting smoking. Many, many studies have shown that enacting and enforcing smoke-free places compels people to either quit or cut down their smoking, which is why the tobacco industry hates smoke-free laws. One of the main reason’s that California’s smoking rate is so low is that we went smoke free a long time ago, and it continues to pay off.
But as great a job as California is doing, the state must do more, and other states must do a whole lot more. Even with all of California’s anti-smoking measures, 43,000 people in the state die each year from tobacco-related illness. Tobacco use costs the state $16 billion a year. Nationwide, tobacco use kills 443,000 people each year, and about 49,000 of these deaths are caused by secondhand smoke.
California banned smoking near playgrounds, and many cities have also banned it near public entryways and other places. Two years ago, California banned smoking in cars when children are present. The latest front in the war against tobacco is smoke-free apartments. Research shows that second-hand smoke travels from apartment to apartment and affects non-smoking residents, and especially kids, who can’t choose where they can live. Smoke-free multi-unit housing, which is perfectly legal, will convince even more people to quit and help reduce smoking among low-income populations, where tobacco use is highest.
When it comes to tobacco control, the rest of the country needs to emulate California. When it comes to balancing the state budget… not so much.