A decade after California initiated the nation's most comprehensive and aggressive anti-smoking program, the incidence of deadly lung and bronchial cancer has dropped far more dramatically there than it has nationwide.
California lung cancer rates dropped 14 percent between 1988 and 1997, while the estimated drop nationwide was 2.7 percent, according to a report released Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The drop is the strongest evidence yet that aggressive anti-smoking programs will save people's lives, experts said.
"This is a landmark finding," said David Fleming, deputy director of the CDC's office of science and public health.
"The even better news is that this is the tip of the iceberg," he said. "We are just beginning to see now the effects of the decline in California's cigarette use in the mid-1980s, and we expect the drop in cancer rates to continue and intensify."
According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 80 percent of lung and bronchial cancers, most of which are fatal. Separate statistics released Thursday by the California Department of Health Services indicate that the drop in lung cancer has indeed picked up speed. The department said that lung and bronchial cancer rates had fell another 4.2 percent from 1998 to 1997.
"There is no mystery as to why California has witnessed a significant decline in the incidence of lung and (bronchial) cancers, while other regions nationwide have seen little or no change," said California Health Director Diana Bonta. She credited "a decade of comprehensive tobacco education programs which have helped to change how (Californians) view tobacco use."
In 1989, California voters increased the price of cigarettes by 25 cents a pack and dedicated a portion of the money to fund the state's smoking prevention program. Another 50 cents was added two years ago.
Analysts say that the high price of cigarettes has contributed greatly to a steep decline in California smoking rates, but that other aggressive anti-smoking programs have contributed as well. The state, for instance, supports anti-smoking advertising, programs to help smokers quit, clean indoor air laws and community anti-smoking coalitions.
Since state efforts began in the mid-1980s, per capita consumption of cigarettes declined in California from 126.6 packs per person in 1987-1988 to 61.3 packs per person in 1998-1999, a drop more than twice as great as in the nation as a whole. In all, the percentage of California adults who smoke decreased from 22.8 percent in 1988 to 18 percent in 1999.
Fleming of the CDC said that the new findings, published in the agency's journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, suggest that other states should follow California's aggressive lead, as Massachusetts, Oregon, Arizona and Maine had already done.