Capitol Alert

California anti-smoking drive cut rates in half

Cory Parravano, left, manager of The Vapor Spot on J Street in midtown Sacramento talks to customers who smoke e-cigarettes on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2015. California health officials say electronic cigarettes are a health threat that should be strictly regulated like tobacco products.
Cory Parravano, left, manager of The Vapor Spot on J Street in midtown Sacramento talks to customers who smoke e-cigarettes on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2015. California health officials say electronic cigarettes are a health threat that should be strictly regulated like tobacco products.

Smoking in California has dropped by more than 50 percent since the state launched its Tobacco Control Program in 1988, according to a Department of Public Health report.

In 1988, the report says, 23.7 per cent of California adults were puffing away, but by 2013, it had dropped to 11.7 percent, the second lowest (to Utah) of any state.

However, there are very large discrepancies in smoking rates by gender, age, ethnicity and geography. And the report notes the sharp increase in use of electronic cigarettes, approaching the use of conventional smokes in the 18-24 age bracket.

The rise of e-cigarettes has sparked efforts, so far unsuccessful, in the Legislature to subject them to the same regulation and taxation as regular cigarettes. There are also numerous pending measures to raise the state’s tobacco taxes, now among the nation’s lowest.

Among the report’s highlights:

▪ In 1988, there was little difference in the prevalence of smoking among adult men and women, but by 2013, the rate was 15.1 percent for men and just 8.5 percent for women.

▪ Black Californians are the major ethnic group most likely to smoke and Asian-Americans the least likely, with Latinos only slightly more likely than Asians. However, there are wide disparities among the various Asian nationalities and Native Americans have California’s highest levels of smoking.

▪ The poorest Californians, with incomes below the federal poverty level, are more likely to smoke than those with higher incomes, with those in the highest income brackets the least likely.

▪ Not surprisingly, therefore, smoking rates are higher in lower-income counties and the lowest in high-income regions, particularly the San Francisco Bay Area.

▪ The same pattern is true of educational levels. Those with bachelor’s degrees or postgraduate educations are much less likely to be smokers than those with lower levels of education.

▪ Smoking rates among high school students have declined along with adult rates. In 2012, 10.5 percent of them had smoked within 30 days of being asked in surveys. Among high school seniors, the rate was 14.2 percent, higher than the overall adult rate. However, while smoking rates for black adults are relatively high, those of black high school students were second lowest in 2012, with Asians the lowest.

▪ Cigarette taxes were raised twice during the quarter-century period and both were followed by sharper declines in the rate of smoking. The state has also run television ads and undertaken other media campaigns to persuade Californians to stop smoking.

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