California - smokers continue to kick the cigarette addiction..

December 22, 2010 - As of last year, California had seen a 38% decrease in smokers since 1990, when public health officials created the California Tobacco Control Program, funded by Proposition 99. The smoking rate is expected to decrease to 12.6% this year, close to the national goal of 12% by 2020. Only Utah reports a lower rate of smokers.

The percentage of California adults who smoke has continued to drop more than the national average, according to new data released Monday, December 20trh by state health officials. Still, deep disparities exist depending on gender, education, income, ethnicity and region. Overall, Californians remain significantly less likely to smoke than people in the rest of the country, with 13.1% of adults surveyed statewide saying they smoked last year compared with 21% of adults nationwide. The rate was even lower in several Southern California counties, including Los Angeles (10.4%), Orange (10.9%), Ventura (11.8%), Riverside and San Bernardino (each 12.7%), according to a 2008 telephone survey.

Men still smoke at higher rates than women, 14.9% compared to 8.4% as of 2008. College graduates smoked at less than half the rate of those without college degrees, about 6%. Among households with an income of $150,000 or more, about 8% smoked, while about 20% living in households earning less than $20,000 smoked as of 2008. About 12.7% of whites smoked as of 2008, compared to 14.2% of African Americans, 10.2% of Latinos and 8.1% of Asians as of 2008.

"We have saved billions of dollars in healthcare costs that have been averted," Kimberly Belshé, the state's secretary of Health and Human Services, said Monday at a news conference near downtown Los Angeles to release the figures and display the state's latest anti- smoking advertisements. Still, she said, "these prevalence rates also tell us we have more work to be done." (California - latest tobacco ads debut..)

But rates within the state vary, in some cases widely. Many rural counties had rates of 17% or higher, including Lake (31.6%), Tehama (22.8%), Tuolomne (21.9%) and Humboldt (17.7%). Northern and eastern parts of the state have seen the least decline in smoking since 1990.

Roughly 13 percent of residents in San Francisco are smokers, about 10 percent of the population of Los Angeles and 11 percent of San Diego smokes.

Reference: The state's percentage of smokers drops faster than the national average. Gender, income and other factors affect results by Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2010.