PD Editorial: Are tobacco gains going up in smoke?
Published: Friday, January 4, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.
There’s nothing original about a New Year’s resolution to eat better, exercise more or break a bad habit. Regrettably, there’s nothing unusual about failing, either.
Yet when it comes to smoking, many Californians are kicking the habit — or, better still, avoiding it altogether. Since 1988, the adult smoking rate has fallen by half — from 23 percent to 12 percent in 2011 — according to a report from the state Department of Health Services.
Tobacco kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murder and suicide combined while burning up billions of health care dollars.
“More than 34,000 deaths from tobacco-related illnesses occur every year, and the cost of adult health care related to smoking in California is projected to be $6.5 billion this year, about $400 per taxpayer,” said Dr. Ron Chapman, the state health officer. “The most cost-effective way to decrease health care costs is to encourage and support tobacco cessation.”
The state tobacco-control program started in 1988, funded by a 25-cent tax on cigarettes that pays for grants, enforcement and anti-smoking ads. Since then, sales have declined from 2.5 billion packs per year to 972 million, even as California’s population increased by 35 percent. That’s millions of people taking better care of their health, their lives.
But, as with so many New Year’s resolutions, good intentions may be giving way to temptation.
The latest state report includes some alarming data about younger smokers:
The 18-24 age group is most likely to smoke.
By age 14, more than 35 percent of children have smoked at least once.
Illegal tobacco sales to minors were up in 2012, the first increase in three years. Almost 9 percent of retailers made illegal sales, up from 5.6 percent in 2011.
Smokeless tobacco and nontraditional methods, such as hookah pipes, are increasingly popular with young smokers.
Another recent report, this one published by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said that 34,000 minors start smoking annually in California, matching the number of tobacco-related deaths. The report said the teen smoking rate is 13.8 percent — slightly higher than the adult rate reported by the state Department of Health Services.
Teenagers and young adults are crucial to anti-smoking efforts and tobacco companies alike. About 90 percent of smokers start before they turn 18 and 99 percent start by age 26, according to the U.S. surgeon general. In California, health officials say 64 percent begin as teenagers and 96 percent start by age 26.
California can’t afford to see its progress against tobacco go up in smoke, and the state’s teenagers and young adults can’t afford this addiction.
There’s ample evidence that tobacco consumption falls as prices rise. California’s tobacco tax is well below that national average at 87 cents per pack, but voters rejected a ballot measure in June that would have raised it $1 a pack with some of the money going to anti-smoking efforts. Too much money was earmarked for new programs — a justifiably hard sell in a state with chronic budget troubles. It’s worth trying again with a more targeted measure, because it would save lives.
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