SACRAMENTO — Although there is wide agreement that Proposition 99, with its tough anti-smoking commercials and local anti-tobacco campaigns, has helped to cut smoking in California, the evidence does not make it clear why it is working.
Americans in general are gradually lowering their tobacco consumption and in recent years Californians have been reducing their consumption at an even faster rate--27%--compared to a national decline of about 10% over the past six years, said John P. Pierce, head of the cancer prevention and control program at UC San Diego.
California's sharpest decline in tobacco use began in September, 1988, two months before voters approved the anti-tobacco initiative and four months before the 25-cents-a-pack tax increase took effect.
Pierce and his colleagues at San Diego have been tracking Californians' smoking habits in a study funded by Proposition 99 tax dollars.
He believes that the campaign to pass the measure, in which cigarette manufacturers spent more than $20 million in opposition, may have triggered what he calls "an anticipatory effect"--smokers deciding to quit because of their heightened awareness of the issue and to avoid the impending tax.
Pierce's figures show that the sharp drop in cigarette consumption continued for months as the new tax took effect and then leveled off. By October, 1989, sales began rising again.
"If (the state) didn't do anything else, the effect of the tax would have worn out," Pierce said.
In April, 1990, the state launched a mass media campaign--and tobacco consumption began to fall again. Supporters of the state Department of Health Services' anti-smoking efforts cite this as proof that the commercials were effective.
When the blitz of commercials ended, Pierce said, tobacco sales began rising again. In early 1992, Gov. Pete Wilson refused to sign a new contract with a private ad agency to continue the media campaign--a decision that was reversed only after a lawsuit. For months, there were no commercials or ads.
But for reasons that are not quite clear, tobacco consumption during that time began falling again. Confounding Pierce's findings are a host of other factors, such as cigarette advertising and price changes.
Pierce contends that other tax-funded efforts to restrict smoking--such as community campaigns to promote workplace smoking bans--were probably having an effect.
His survey has shown that smokers employed in smoke-free work sites are much more likely to quit than those whose jobs permit smoking.
But like all retrospective looks at human behavior, there are confounding factors, such as a recent drop in the price of premium cigarettes or the impact of a new sales campaign.
No one can explain, for example, why the state-funded programs appear to be having little effect on teen-agers. Since 1988, when R.J. Reynolds began its Joe Camel promotions, smoking rates among 16- to 18-year-olds have risen in California, according to Pierce's statistics.