The Bad Old Days
In 1988, the people of California passed a historic ballot initiative that would forever change the state. The Tobacco Tax and Health Promotion Act, commonly referred to as Proposition 99, raised the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 25¢ and earmarked a nickel of that tax to prevent and discourage tobacco use.
The California Tobacco Control Program was created as a result of Proposition 99 and embarked on an effort to change the social norms around tobacco use. Today, it is difficult to comprehend how widely accepted smoking was before 1988. Not only did almost a quarter of the population smoke, but they could smoke just about everywhere. Simply put, smoking was a part of everyday life.
Before Proposition 99, tobacco was a part of every day life:
- People could smoke almost anywhere: at work, on airplanes, in restaurants and in hospitals.
- Teachers could smoke in hallways between classes, and schools often had smoking areas for students.
- A majority of smokers would smoke in their homes and around their children.
- The only "no smoking" signs were warnings near gas pumps or oxygen tanks.
- Tobacco billboards were everywhere, including near schools and parks.
- Anyone could buy cigarettes from vending machines, regardless of age.
A New Beginning
Tobacco-control efforts have helped save lives and improved the health of every Californian. Grassroots programs conducted by local health departments, community groups, nonprofit organizations, and schools had a significant positive impact on millions of Californians. Along with the grassroots efforts, a mass media campaign and solid public health policy have furthered the success of California's tobacco control efforts.
Californians are healthier, thanks to fewer adults and youth smoking. We have built strong protections from dangerous secondhand smoke, made efforts to expose and fight the tobacco industry's negative influences, and enacted policies to help keep tobacco products out of the hands of children.
The Fight Isn't Over
Despite our success, tobacco use continues to take a terrible toll in California - physically, emotionally and financially. There are still approximately 3.6 million smokers in the state. In addition, the cost of smoking in California is nearly $18 billion annually, or over $3,400 per smoker every year.1
While the majority (88 percent) of Californians do not smoke, tobacco use continues to disproportionally impact certain demographic groups, including African Americans, Hispanic men, rural residents and people of low socioeconomic status.2 In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke remains a problem for many Californians, whether at home, work or play. Some groups are particularly affected, including Hispanics, blue collar workers and children.
The fight against the tobacco industry must continue in order to protect all Californians from the pain and suffering caused by tobacco use. Californians cannot afford to be satisfied with what we have accomplished thus far.
While restrictions have been placed on tobacco advertising, the tobacco industry continues to develop methods to push its deadly products, including advertising in the retail environment, offering discounted products and promotions, and placing ads in publications that are popular among teens. The tobacco industry continues its predatory practices and we cannot afford to let our guard down now.
As we continue the fight, we must be ready to tackle new challenges as they arise. In recent years we have become increasingly aware of the enormous impact that tobacco products exact on the environment. Cigarettes have a tremendous impact on the environment, from the destruction of forests for the manufacturing process to the pollution caused by millions of non-biodegradable butts.
The battle against tobacco is far from being won; we must continue to fight.
- California Department of Public Health, The Cost of Smoking. Sacramento, 2009.
- California Department of Public Health, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and California Adult Tobacco Survey, 2009. Sacramento, CA, 2010.
- Cowling, D.W., Yang, J. Smoking-Attributable Cancer Mortality in California, 1979-2005. Tobacco Control. 2010;19 (Suppl 1):i62ei67.