Golden State Smokes Rest of Nation
THURSDAY, March 9 (HealthSCOUT) -- California's aggressive anti-tobacco measures are the likely reason adult smoking rates have continued dropping while the rate in the rest of the nation has flattened for adults, say researchers.
Tarnishing the good news, however, is that teen use nationwide has increased by almost one-third and is still a problem in California.
"I think California deserves a pat on the back," says Gary A. Giovino, senior research scientist at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., and co-author of the new study that found "California kept making progress; the rest of the country wasn't."
One of every four Americans -- 47 million adults -- are smokers, a number that has not changed much since 1990, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Meanwhile, every day 3,000 youths under age 18 start smoking, continuing the growing teen smoking trend of the last decade, the CDC says.
The new study compared adult cigarette smoking trends in California with the rest of the United States from 1978 to 1994. Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health, the CDC, the Battelle Memorial Institute and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute conducted the study which appears in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
The study found the nationwide rates of adult smoking have been decreasing from 1978, with a speedup of quitting between 1985 and 1990. More than 5 million smokers quit during those five years. However, that quit rate slowed almost to a stop from 1990 to 1994, probably because of an increase in teen smoking, the study says.
California's quit rate also braked for those four years, but didn't flatten out, like the rest of the country. California's adult smoking rate kept dropping 0.39 percent per year from 1990 to 1994, meaning about 130,000 fewer smokers per year, the study found.
Coincidentally, the tobacco industry tripled the frequency of ads targeting youths and women in California, and spent 10 times as much money on advertising as the state did in its anti-smoking campaign from 1990 to 1993.
Although the industry's campaign targeted youths, the state's anti-tobacco ads were more general in nature.
About 19 percent of California's population -- or 6.4 million people -- smoke, one of the lowest rates in the nation. The study found that California is on its way to reducing smoking to just 15 percent of the population, while the nation is stuck at the 25 percent level.
One possible reason for California's record, the study says, is the state's 1989 tobacco initiative, which hiked cigarette taxes, funded a media campaign to decrease smoking and sponsored educational programs.
"California led the way for a long time. For a while no [other] state did anything. They've really opened peoples' eyes to what is possible," Giovino says.
Giovino says there's no way to know for sure if California's tobacco initiative -- dubbed Proposition 99 -- directly resulted in decreased adult smoking, but "there's [a] very strong reason to believe that there is a connection."
The study found that most California smoke quitters were people 25 years and older, suggesting that increased smoking by teens is making a reduction in the overall smoking rate difficult.
"The key thing to remember for California is that [the state's] advertising was not targeting kids," says Gary Rudman, research director of Teenage Research Unlimited, a marketing analysis firm in Chicago. "If there's no message targeted to them, then they're not as apt to take action" and stop smoking, Rudman says.
Colleen Stevens, chief of California's tobacco media campaign, says the campaign is designed to change attitudes about smoking in the entire state, which is best accomplished by focusing "on everyone."
Still, both Stevens and Rudman think the state's ad campaign is responsible for the decrease in adult smoking. "When it's done right, it has an impact," Rudman says.
What To Do
Previous HealthSCOUT stories have detailed how confidence can stop kids from smoking and how a cigarette takes 11 minutes off your life.
If you're concerned about smoking in your state, contact your congressman or senator and express your opinion.
For information or advice on quitting smoking go to QuitNet or the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.