About 13 percent of Californians smoked in 2009, marking the lowest rate ever and a 42 percent decline since 1988, state public health officials announced yesterday.
The new figures from the California Tobacco Control Program show that smokers are lighting up fewer cigarettes each day, and more are trying to kick the habit. But smoking prevalence varies widely across the state, with higher rates in rural areas and among people with less education and lower income.
Cigarette smoking rates in 2008 ranged from 7.3 percent in Marin County to 22.8 percent in Tehama County, according to data from the latest California Tobacco Survey.
On average, the smoking rate in rural regions was 15.9 percent compared to 10.9 percent in suburban and urban areas. Breaking away from the trend were San Francisco and Sacramento counties, which had smoking rates of 13.5 and 14 percent, respectively.
Nearly 6 percent of college graduates smoked, compared to 12 to 15 percent among people with less education. Households with an income of $150,000 or more had a smoking rate of 7.8 percent, compared to 19.8 percent among households with an income of less than $20,000.
The state unveiled the findings in a new anti-tobacco campaign that emphasizes both the environmental and public health hazards of smoking.
Cigarettes account for 34 percent of litter collected in California – making them a major source of trash at beaches and parks, and on roadsides, according to the state Department of Public Health. The 135 million pounds of cigarette butts discarded in the U.S. each year can remain in the environment for years, the agency said.
The campaign also includes new TV ads that will begin airing in January. One, shown below, revisits Debi Austin, a tobacco educator made famous in 1997 when the state aired an ad showing her smoking through a hole in her trachea.
Austin started smoking at age 13 and was smoking three packs a day by the time she was in college. She was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx at age 42, and surgery to remove the tumor cost her her vocal cords and forced her to learn to speak again. Austin, now battling stomach cancer, quit smoking four months after filming the first ad.
Today, California smokers smoke an average of 14 cigarettes each day, down from 19 in 1992, according to the tobacco control program. That rate is the lowest in the nation.
And 28.1 percent of smokers in California now say they are non-daily smokers, compared to 14.8 percent in 1992. Last year, 60 percent of smokers in the state tried to quit.