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Smoking rate reaches historic low in California

August 5, 2011 |  8:00 am

Smoking-man

 

 

Californians are kicking the habit.

The rate of adult smoking has dropped sharply over the last two decades, reaching its lowest level on record, largely because of aggressive tobacco control campaigns by state and local governments, officials said.

Last year, 11.9% of Californians said they smoked, down from 25.9% in 1984, the earliest data available, according to the California Department of Public Health. Only one other state had a lower smoking rate last year: Utah with 9.1%.

Smoking rates also have dropped nationally, but California still remains far below U.S. levels, saving lives and billions of dollars in avoided healthcare costs, state health officials say.

The officials point out that middle school and high school students are smoking less, but say that much of California’s drop is because of declining cigarette use among young adults ages 18 to 24 –- people such as 21-year-old Elise Irvine.

Smoke “People who smoke don’t have it together,” said the USC student as she ate lunch at the campus center recently. “It’s a poor life decision.”

Experts credit California’s 22-year-old tobacco control program, the longest running in the country, for shaping that type of attitude.

With money from a 1988 voter-approved tobacco tax, the program has run media and school campaigns and funded other efforts to spotlight the dangers of smoking.

Over the last two decades, meanwhile, California has moved to ban smoking in bars, restaurants, in-state flights and most enclosed workplaces.

The combined efforts, state officials say, have prompted smokers to quit or cut back, reducing the prevalence among youth.

And that, experts say, is good news for those attempting to stem the spread of tobacco in a country where deaths attributed to smoking total an estimated 443,000 Americans annually, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 U.S. deaths.

“We have changed the social norms,” said Colleen Stevens, chief of the state health department’s tobacco control branch. “Younger people are growing up in an environment where there is very little smoking.”

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-- Duke Helfand

Photo credit: Michael Reynolds / EPA

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