The California Department of Health yesterday announced the state’s smoking prevalence rate, which has hit an all-time low of 13.1 percent, the lowest in the nation next to Utah’s. (Check out the data here and here.)

Lots of local newspaper stories are trumpeting their individual county’s triumph over tobacco addiction. Marin — superlative! San Mateo — excellent! Contra Costa and Alameda — kudos! Santa Clara — well done! And San Francisco, well, needless to say, just…uh…well…


From the Chronicle:

More San Francisco adults smoke than those in most other urban and suburban counties in California, according to data on smoking rates released by state health officials Monday…

Counties that are more urban and suburban tend to have significantly lower smoking rates than rural areas. Exceptions in California include San Francisco, an urban county, and Sacramento, home of the state Capitol and outlying suburbs….

“We’re like 40 percent higher than L.A., which is very surprising,” said Dr. Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine and director of UCSF’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. Los Angeles had a smoking prevalence of 10.4 percent.

The Chronicle article goes on to cite a project director of the California LGBT Tobacco Education Partnership as attributing the city’s high smoking numbers in part to “significantly higher rates” among gays and lesbians.

In the Bay Citizen, Alyonik Hrushow, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Free Project, blames the lag in progress on successful cigarette company marketing to the city’s youth culture.

The most recent example of such an advertising strategy is a campaign called Camel’s Break Free Adventure contest, which focuses on 10 hipster locales around the country, including Austin, Texas; Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in New York City; and the Haight neighborhood in San Francisco.

“The locations have several qualities in common, including an association with independent music, fun times, rebellion and freedom of the road,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a statement denouncing the campaign.

There’s even a limited-edition Haight-Ashbury pack of cigarettes featuring the iconic street sign. “The Summer of Love, protests to be civil and a rainbow of counterculture,” reads the accompanying marketing hype. “Whether you started here or put flowers in your hair, grabbed a drum and hitched a ride on a painted minibus, Camel lights up this little piece of San Francisco that pulses with the spirit to evolve, revolve or revolt and follows the force to break free.” Full article

Whatever the reason for San Francisco’s inability to enter the top-tier of non-smoking California counties, it’s not for a want of trying. The San Francisco Tobacco Free Project lists all of the local anti-smoking ordinances that have gone into effect since 1988.

And statewide, there’s more to come. Here’s one of California’s new anti-smoking ads, which will air in January.

And here’s Rachel Dornhelm from The California Report reporting on the new environmental tack that the ad campaign will take.

Finally, if you haven’t yet seen the new cigarette-label warning ads that the FDA is proposing, you really should. The feds mean business…

Among Low California Smoking Rates, One Famous County Lags 21 December,2010Jon Brooks


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. In 2014, he won a California Journalism Award for his coverage of ride services like Uber and Lyft and the taxi industry. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor