California’s adult smoking rate at a record low

California’s numbers are down, but this time it’s a good thing. The state’s adult smoking rate is at a record low, with just 11.9 percent of adults lighting up.

Smoking rates are down across gender, ethnic and age groups in California — although men, African-Americans and people age 25 to 44 still have the highest rates in their respective categories.

But the lower adult smoking rate is a milestone for the Golden State.

“We’ve now reached a 50 percent decline from 1988, when the Tobacco Tax Initiative went into effect,” said Colleen Stevens, chief of the Tobacco Control Branch of California’s Department of Public Health, referring to adult smokers.

The Tobacco Tax Initiative, also known as Proposition 99, levied a 25-cent tax on every pack of cigarettes sold in California. Part of those taxes funded the state’s Tobacco Control Program, which aims to reduce tobacco use and improve the health of every Californian.

The program is entirely paid for by Proposition 99. And as the number of smokers in California has declined, so has its funding. “But, our job is to put ourselves out of business,” said Stevens, who has been with Tobacco Control since its start 20 years ago.

She points to the resulting benefits, including programs conducted and supported by these funds saving Californians $86 billion in health care costs.

“Growing up, it seemed like everyone was smoking,” Stevens said. Some of her schoolteachers would even light up in the classroom. But with the proliferation of policies banning smoking in indoor workplaces and in bars, and a shift in attitude toward the inappropriateness of smoking, “we have a whole new generation who isn’t as addicted (to smoking),” Stevens said.

This is particularly encouraging, since the longer someone smokes, the harder it is to quit.

“But it’s never too late for someone to quit,” said Janet Ghanem, project director for Seniors Breathe Easy with the nonprofit Breathe California of the Bay Area. Ghanem focuses on teaching smokers who want to quit strategies to manage their cravings.

While there’s no one technique that works for everyone, Ghanem says that having a strong support network, breathing deeply and distracting yourself are good ways to resist the smoldering sirens curled inside each cigarette.

“It had such a strong hold on me,” said Heidi Carroll, a 33-year-old Santa Clara resident with a pack-a-day habit. Carroll started smoking when she was 13 and has tried to quit since her early 20s. But nothing seemed to work. She said she would end up in tears because she was so desperate to quit.

Carroll finally tried hypnosis, but it didn’t take the first time she did it. “I went out and bought a pack that evening,” she said.

But after a couple weeks of feeling depressed about her latest setback, Carroll went back for a second session and has been smoke-free for 10 months.

“When I quit, it gave me a sense of power and control over my mind and body,” Carroll said. That sense of empowerment enabled her to lose weight, and she dropped 30 pounds several months after quitting. “Now I feel fantastic.”

By Jane J. Lee
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