Smoking rate at new low for California adults

California’s adult smoking rate has reached an all-time low and smoking rates dropped across all age groups, according to figures released Wednesday by the state’s Department of Public Health.

In 2010, 11.9 percent of adult Californians smoked, down more than a percentage point from 13.1 percent in 2009. “The drop in smoking means that fewer people will see their lives cut short by tobacco,” said Public Health Director Ron Chapman.

Californian women smoking cigarettes

Californian women smoking cigarettes

The greatest decline was among adults ages 25 to 44. Just 13.1 percent of the state’s adults in that demographic smoked in 2010, compared with 15.2 percent in 2009.

Men still smoke at higher rates than women – 14.4 percent of California men smoke compared with 9.4 percent of women – but rates for both declined from 2009, according to the health department data.

Chapman and other public health officials say the numbers show how aggressive the state has been in reducing tobacco use.

Consider that in 1988, the smoking rate among California men was 25.6 percent and among women was 20 percent.

In the years since voters in 1988 established the California Tobacco Control Program and a 25-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes, the adult smoking rate has been cut by nearly half.

Proceeds from the pack tax funded health and community organizations, education and media campaigns intended to change Californians’ thinking on the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.

“When we started, smoking was an accepted part of society. The tobacco control program changed the norm,” Chapman said. “Now, people recognize that they’re not only making decisions about their own health, but the health of the people around them.”

In recent years, California businesses and health plans have also increased their efforts to get people to quit smoking. State health officials say the efforts have paid off in lives saved and health care savings.

State health officials estimate 1 million lives and $86 billion in health care costs have been saved through the tobacco control efforts.

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