UC Davis study: fewer Californians dying of lung cancer, pulmonary disease as smoking decreases
(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) â€” The stateâ€™s successful efforts to reduce smoking are paying off with tangible results: Fewer Californians than expected are dying of lung cancer and chronic lung disease, according to a study by a UC Davis researcher.
Bruce Leistikow, an adjunct associate professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at UC Davis, will present this research at the annual meeting of the American Thoracic Society International Conference Sunday, May 20 in San Francisco.
Leistikow studied health, social and cost-reduction benefits in California resulting from reduced cigarette smoking. Then he compared those reductions to other states. He analyzed data for cigarette use and deaths from lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a dangerous and debilitating combination of emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma sometimes called "smokerâ€™s lung."
Between 1988 and 1997, lung cancer death rates in California fell from 9 percent below the remaining U.S. average to 19 percent below average, Leistikow found. In that same period, Californiaâ€™s death rates from COPD fell from 15 percent above the average for other states to 1 percent below.
In human terms, if the rest of the country had reduced smoking as drastically as California, some 140,000 premature deaths from lung cancer and lung disease would most likely have been spared between 1988 and 1997, said Leistikow. Another 70,000 early widowhoods would also have been avoided.
On the flip side, about 20,000 Californians avoided premature death from lung cancer and COPD because of reductions in smoking, Leistikow estimates. "We know that stopping smoking will decrease the death and widowhood rates from cancer as well as from heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and some injuries," said Leistikow. "Many people did not realize that those benefits would arrive this soon. But now we have a body count for this phenomenon we can point to lives lost from continued smoking and lives saved by reducing smoking in California."
The results follow the adoption of Prop. 99, which increased taxes on cigarettes by 25 cents a pack to pay for anti-smoking advertising and smoking cessation programs. Prop. 99 went on the state ballot in November of 1988 and went into effect Jan. 1, 1989. From 1988 to 1997, the prevalence of smoking in California dropped by 27 percent and the number of cigarettes consumed dropped by almost half. An estimated 18 percent of Californians now smoke at least occasionally, down from 23 percent in 1988.
For his study, Leistikow scrutinized mortality statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 1979-97. Although age-adjusted lung cancer rates declined nationwide late in that period, declines in lung cancer rates were disproportionately high in California.
"Lung cancer rates in California were similar to those in the rest of the United States before 1988," he said. "After Prop. 99 passed, a significant gap emerged. The quick ticket to reducing lung cancer and chronic lung disease is reducing smoking. Itâ€™s clearly an intervention that saves lives."