New Report on Cigarette Smoking in Los Angeles County

Over the past two decades, Los Angeles County has been a national and international leader in tobacco control and prevention. With a current smoking prevalence of 14%, the County has among the lowest smoking rates of any metropolitan area in the United States. Much of the County’s success in reducing smoking prevalence has been attributed to cigarette tax policy, aggressive anti-smoking media campaigns, smoke free indoor air policies, and other effective local tobacco control programs.

In spite of this success, the Los Angeles County Health Survey reveals that rather than continuing to decline, smoking prevalence among County adult residents has remained fairly steady since 2002. More than one million adults in the County currently smoke cigarettes. Among Los Angeles County teens in grades 9 through 12, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey demonstrated a decline in smoking rates from 26% in 1997 to 12% in 2005. However, as with adult smokers, this downward trend has not continued. Cigarette smoking remains the leading preventable cause of disease and disability, claiming over 8,500 lives — one out of every 7 deaths in Los Angeles County each year. Cigarette smokers may also expose their family members and the general public to secondhand smoke, which causes a broad range of adverse health effects. Tobacco-related diseases cost the County $4.3 billion per year, of which $2.3 billion is for direct healthcare expenditures.

Concerning disparities in smoking rates persist in Los Angeles County, with male adults more likely to smoke than females (19% vs. 10%), and African Americans more likely to smoke than adults in other racial/ethnic groups (25% vs. 15% of whites, 12% of Latinos, and 11% of Asians/Pacific Islanders). Adults who have graduated from college and those with higher incomes are less likely to smoke than are other Angelenos. Targeted efforts are needed to further reduce cigarette smoking, especially among high risk groups.

The Department of Public Health is working with communities throughout Los Angeles County to decrease cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. In this report, we examine smoking status across geographic areas in Los Angeles County. We hope this report will serve to inform local governments and communities, and facilitate their efforts to reduce tobacco use and the enormous toll it exacts.

Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH
Director and Health Officer