Tobacco Use in CA: Making Strides, but Room to Improve

Despite health and safety warnings, smoking retains its appeal for some, with roughly 12 percent of Californians still lighting up. Photo Credit: g'DAy

Logan Pollard
California News Service

LOS ANGELES – In California alone, 40,000 people die every year from tobacco-related illnesses, which also cost the state just over $18 billion in healthcare and loss of productivity. Two reports out today explain what states are doing to curb tobacco use.

Lindsey Freitas, senior director of Tobacco Control and Lung Health for the American Lung Association in California, described the progress the state has made in the past year. It includes raising the legal age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21, regulating e-cigarettes just like other tobacco products, and passing a ballot measure (Proposition 56) to hike the tobacco tax by $2 a pack.

“All of those things resulted in our grades going up this year, and we actually were one of the states that showed the most improvement, year over year, because of a lot of the effort that we were able to do last year,” she explained. “We’ve regained our place as a leader in tobacco control once again.”

Freitas noted that these efforts largely enjoyed bipartisan support, but faced opposition from Big Tobacco. California’s smoking rate still hovers around 12 percent, and while that might seem like a small number, it represents roughly the population of the state of Oregon.

Along with the national report, a companion report from the American Lung Association’s California chapter grades cities and counties on their tobacco-control initiatives.

Freitas says more than 20 received an overall “A” average, but the list doesn’t include any of the 10 largest cities. San Francisco scored a “B,” Los Angeles got a “C,” and Anaheim got an “F.”

“The important thing to note is that these are not easy policies to adopt, even though we do have strong support,” she said. “They’re still challenging to adopt in some of these bigger cities, and so, we see the progress there going a little slower.”

An estimated 16,000 California kids a year start smoking. Freitas said her group is working to stem kids’ access to e-cigs, and to curb tobacco companies’ targeting of minorities in their marketing.