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 California's Anti-Smoking Campaign Stalled Since Funding Cuts, Study Says


September-October 1998

California's anti-smoking campaign is faltering because of funding cuts due to political pressure, says a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (John Pierce, Ph.D., et al., "Has the California Tobacco Control Program Reduced Smoking?" Journal of the American Medical Association, September 9, 1998, pp. 893-899; Terence Monmaney, "Cuts Hamper Anti-Smoking Bid, Study Says," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), September 9, 1998, p. B1; John Schwartz, "Anti-Tobacco Program in California Is Faulted," Washington Post, September 9, 1998, p. A12).

The study, by researchers at the University of California (UC) at San Diego, says that the percentage of adult (18 years +) smokers fell from 23% in 1989 to 18% in 1993 during the early years of California's pioneering anti-smoking campaign. However, no further decline occurred by 1996, and youth tobacco use increased from 9% to 11%. Researchers concluded that the lack of progress was due to cuts in funding for the anti-smoking campaign. Per capita spending dropped from $3.35 per resident during the early years of the campaign to $2.08 per resident after 1993.

John Pierce, Ph.D., associate director of the cancer prevention program at UC San Diego, said California health department officials pressured him to revise the findings to make the anti-smoking campaign appear more successful after he submitted the $1.8 million report to them. He refused and his research contract was not renewed. "I can only conclude that the decision to terminate our contract was politically motivated," said Pierce.

California's tobacco control program is funded from a 25-cent-a-pack cigarette tax that voters approved in 1988. The program supports anti-tobacco TV ads and billboards and community and school anti-smoking efforts. Supporters of the program -- the most comprehensive in any state -- say it is responsible for California having the second lowest rate of smoking, behind Utah. In 1993, Governor Pete Wilson (R) vetoed the program's budget for mass media ads. The campaign's 1995-1996 budget of $42 million was less than half of the amount of the 1992-1993 budget.

A 1990 memo from the Tobacco Institute, the tobacco industry-funded research group, outlined strategies for eliminating state money set aside for anti-tobacco campaigns. It suggested that the industry should "encourage the Legislature to intervene" and "encourage the governor to intercede against the campaign." Between 1994 and 1996, tobacco industry campaign donations to California Assembly candidates, political parties, and party committees rose 70%, according to Pierce and coauthors of the report. "The slowing of the decline in smoking in recent years may well be a result of these political counter-strategies," they wrote.

The authors agree that other factors may be partly responsible for the stalled decline in smoking, including price cuts in cigarettes by companies in 1993, increased tobacco advertising and promotion, and leveling out of the reduction of cigarette consumption caused by the 25-cent excise tax.

John Pierce, Ph.D. - UC San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., Mail Code 0645, LaHoya, CA 92093-0645, Tel: (619) 822-2380, Fax: (619) 822-2399.

California health department's Division of Chronic Diseases and Injury Control - P.O. Box 942732, Sacramento, CA 94234-7320, Tel: (916) 445-1102, Fax: (916) 445-0238.