TEEN SMOKING: Antitobacco Efforts Credited for Decline
The number of teenage smokers in California dropped by one- third last year, prompting Gov. Gray Davis (D) to credit a 10- year antismoking campaign, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to a state Department of Health Services survey released yesterday, 6.9% of teens ages 12-17 smoked last year, down from 10.7% in 1998 (Morain, 7/13). "California's young people have grown up in the Proposition 99 era. The advertising campaigns and community-based programs to combat tobacco and the nonsmoking policies in California restaurants, stores and schools have dramatically shifted Californians' attitudes and behavior toward tobacco use," Davis said. Approved by voters in 1988, Proposition 99 imposed a 25-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes and then funnelled the revenues into prevention programs. Since then, cigarette consumption has dropped by more than half in California. Last year, Californians consumed about 61 packs of cigarettes per person, compared to 69 in 1998 and the national average of 107 packs per person. According to the survey, the number of 12- and 13-year-old smokers fell from 4.5% in 1998 to 1.2% in 1999. Similarly, the survey found a one-third decline among teens ages 16 and 17 and a 20% reduction among teens ages 14 and 15. Smoking among California adults fell slightly from 18.4% in 1998 to 18% last year, still below the national average of 25% (Thompson, AP/Contra Costa Times, 7/12).
No Thanks to Davis
Despite the decline, some antismoking advocates criticized the governor's antitobacco efforts, claiming that the progress stems from a voter-approved tax last year that added 50 cents to each pack of cigarettes. "The precipitous drop is because the prices were raised. Every study shows that the single best way to reduce teen smoking is to raise prices," actor and producer Rob Reiner, who sponsored the tax initiative, said. UCSF medical professor Stanton Glantz agreed, noting, "The Davis administration has done nothing to reduce tobacco use. For him to claim credit for the reductions for what the voters did is outrageous." Pointing to a recent rise -- from 16.3% in 1994 to 22.6% in 1999 -- in smoking among California young adults ages 18-24, American Heart Association spokesperson Marc Burgat added, "That's bad news; that's worse than bad news. The tobacco industry is targeting them, and we're not responding" (Los Angeles Times, 7/13). The AHA also has taken issue with Davis' handling of the state's tobacco settlement money. In a full-page New York Times advertisement yesterday, the AHA accused the governor of hijacking the funds and "put[ting] Californians at risk." Burgat said, "The state gets $500 million a year from the tobacco settlement and no new dollars whatsoever are being put into the state's tobacco prevention campaign." Although Davis increased the state's antitobacco advertising budget by $25 million this year, Burgat said it is "simply not enough." Davis spokeperson Steve Maviglio defended the governor's antitobacco efforts, saying, "The advocacy groups are doing their job in wanting more, but California has done more than other states" (Gledhill, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13).
Cities Crack Down
Meanwhile, several cities may get tougher on tobacco. Berkeley's City Council approved a resolution Tuesday asking local newspapers to refrain from running tobacco advertisements or to at least run free antismoking spots equal to each page of cigarette advertising. Mayor Shirley Dean said, "It's a concern for young people. If you pick up the weeklies (newspapers), you'll see a vast number of ads that are all aimed at young people. I don't expect any newspaper to forgo that much income, but it's an educational thing." However, Councilmember Diane Woolley voiced concern over the proposal. She said, "It just makes me uncomfortable -- suggesting what a paper will and will not print" (Hicks, Contra Costa Times, 7/13). In Los Angeles, antismoking activists are taking matters into their own hands following the city's failure to fine a single bar for violating the 2 1/2-year-old statewide ban on workplace smoking. Local advocates said yesterday they will file suits in small claims courts against bar owners who ignore the law. Activists also plan to initiate civil proceedings in Los Angeles Superior Court, charging that bar owners breaking the smoking law also violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying access to people with respiratory illnesses. Noting that the small claims suit can yield $500 at most, activists said the real purpose is to "spark a grass-roots uprising against smoking scofflaws" (Fox, Los Angeles Times, 7/13).