California’s quitting smoking faster than the rest of the U.S.

California has been kicking its smoking habit far more successfully than the rest of America – and it may be due to more than four smokerdecades of antismoking state policies.

That’s according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., in which a UC San Diego-led team mapped out the prevalence of smoking among high-intensity smokers (20 or more cigarettes per day), moderate-to-high-intensity smokers (10-19 cigarettes per day) and low-intensity smokers (0-9 cigarettes per day).

For all three smoking groups, California actually started out with slightly higher smoking rates in 1965 – 23.2% of adults were high-intensity smokers, for example, compared with 22.9% of the rest of the United States. By 2007, those rates had dropped to 2.6% in California and 7.2% in the greater U.S. This means California’s rate was slightly over 1/10 of its 1965 prevalence, but the rest of the U.S. was still nearly 1/3 of its original rate.

For those smokers in the mid-range, California still outpaced the rest of America, falling from 11.1% in 1965 to 3.4% in 2007. The rest of the U.S. dropped just from 10.5% to 5.4%. Smokers in the low range were already a relatively small population, and the differences weren’t dramatic: California fell from 7.1% to 5.3% and the other 49 states together fell from 7.0% to 5.3%.

What’s California doing differently? The authors point to the state’s tobacco-control programs.

“In 1968, California was the first state to aggressively raise its cigarette tax … [and] the first state to introduce an ongoing, well-funded comprehensive tobacco control program, which has been in place since 1989. Ordinances restricting cigarette smoking in the workplace were first introduced in California in 1976 and increased rapidly throughout the 1980s,” the authors write.

And, they write, lung cancer deaths, which peaked in California in 1987 at 109 for every 100,000 people, dropped to 77 per 100,000 in 2007. In the rest of the U.S., lung cancer deaths were still at 102 per 100,000 in 2007.

By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times

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