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Kicking Butts in Arizona

Higher taxes, education campaign contribute to healthy drop in smoking rates

FRIDAY, May 25, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Smoking rates in the Grand Canyon state have tumbled 26 percent since 1996, and you can credit a 40 percent increase in the tobacco tax, coupled with the intensive anti-smoking campaign it funds.

And as Arizona goes, so should go the rest of the country, officials say.

"What we are seeing in this state, and other states, is that price increases contribute to an initial reduction in smoking rates," says Terry Pechacek, the associate director for science in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Office on Smoking and Health. "But to sustain that decline, you need the educational component."

In 1995, Arizona voters supported a 58-cent per-pack tax, with 23 cents of that going to a comprehensive, statewide anti-tobacco campaign. The result: The number of smokers in Arizona dropped from 23.1 percent in 1996 to 18.3 percent in 1999, the CDC says. The biggest reductions occurred among adults making less than $10,000 a year, in young people under the age of 18, and in people over age 45.

According to the CDC, there are 48 million adult smokers in the United States, and at least 16 million try to stop smoking for at least 24 hours each year. Another 2 million to 3 million try to quit but can't get through a single day.

"The Arizona anti-smoking campaign is reaching both older and younger citizens as well as richer and poorer at the same time," Pechacek says. "And based on the overall data, we are confident that Arizona's anti-smoking program is one of the major contributors to the decline."

The smoking statistics were published in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Michael Murphy, communications director for the Arizona Department of Health Services, says the tax hike has had a lot to do with the smoking drop. "Obviously, we would like to take credit for the entire drop, but this was a fairly substantial tax increase."

"What we do know is that it is a combination of . . . the dramatic increase in the tax, the much larger restrictions on smoking in public places and an ambitious anti-smoking campaign," Murphy says. "And our campaign is hard-hitting, and some have deemed it extraordinarily gross, but that's what seems to work with teens."

The anti-smoking campaign's tag line seems to have caught on, too. "The moniker is, 'Smoking is a tumor-causing, teeth-staining, smelly, puking habit,' " Murphy says. "That's what's out on our commercials, our print ads, on TV and on radio. It's a pretty extensive ad campaign that has gotten a lot of attention."

But it's not only the ad campaign that's producing results, Murphy says. "We've got education, cessation services and the Arizona Smoker's Help line, which puts people in touch with smoking-cessation professionals," he says.

Adds the CDC's Pechacek: "If all states were doing what Arizona does, then we are confident that we could reach our 2010 Healthy People objective to cut adult smoking rates in half. And that translates into the reduction of future tobacco-related deaths by more than 3 million."

What To Do

For lots of tips about quitting smoking, visit the American Lung Association. And if you want to see more about Arizona's anti-smoking campaign, visit the Arizona Department of Health Services.

For more articles on the dangers of smoking, read these HealthDay ones.

SOURCES: Interviews with Terry Pechacek, Ph.D., associate director for science, CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, Atlanta; Michael Murphy, communications director, Arizona Department of Health Services, Phoenix; May 25, 2001, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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