California's Next To Last--And That's A Good Thing

Cigarette smoke

"...and curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid git..." (John Lennon/The Beatles "I'm So Tired")

I'm one of those old-school journalists who believes in impartiality.  You shouldn't be able to tell by what I write or say on the air what I like and don't like.  

I feel safe in making an exception in this case.

I hate cigarettes.  With a passion.

I lost my dad when I was eight because he'd smoked three packs a day from the age of 15 on.  He died at 47. 

My now-grown kids lost both their grandfathers to smoking before they were ever born.  Their maternal grandfather made it to 65 before succumbing to smoking-related emphysema.

And my mother-in-law (I'm in my second marriage) is suffering from vascular dementia---decades of cigarette smoking to blame---robbing my stepdaughters of their grandmother slowly over time.

That's why I'm very pleased to read a just-released UC San Diego study that shows lung cancer rates in California, which in 1985 were the highest in the country, are now 28 percent lower than the country as a whole.  

I also like a separate study from the Centers for Disease Control, which shows California has the second-lowest percentage of adults who smoke.  Only Utah is more smoke-free---and then only by 2.2%.

How'd we get there?  

California voters approved an initiative 30 years ago setting up the first comprehensive tobacco control program in the country, run by the California Department of Public Health.  They funded it with a 25-cent per pack tax on cigarettes.  Governor Pete Wilson followed through in 1994 with the state's indoor smoking ban, covering restaurants, bars and workplaces.  And, emboldened by numbers that had started to go in the right direction, voters once again hit the remaining smokers in the wallet, with a two-dollar per pack tax in 2016. 

It worked so well that it's a shock to me when I (infrequently) enter a place where smoking is still allowed, like a casino, and that God-awful smell launches a full frontal assault on my nostrils.  

The best news in the UC San Diego study?  The numbers, good as they are, are likely to get better as those who have smoked and have been exposed to second-hand smoke leave us and the percentage of the population that never have increases.  Remember, we're 28 percent lower than the rest of the country as a whole when it comes to lung cancer. 

In 2037---just 19 years from now---we'll be 50 percent lower than the rest of the country as a whole.

I'm Mike Hagerty and I approve of that statistic.

See you on the Afternoon News at 4 with Kitty O'Neal.

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