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Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 04:53 GMT
Anti-smoking campaign cuts deaths
Campaign hit home with smokers
Campaign hit home with smokers
A California initiative to pump taxes into anti-smoking education has prevented more than 33,000 deaths, say researchers.

The nine-year California Tobacco Control Program has been linked to reductions in the number of deaths from heart disease.

But budget cuts in the programme in the mid 1990s may be partly responsible for an extra 8,300 deaths, say researchers.

They claim this is the first piece of research to directly link a cut in the number of heart disease deaths to an anti-smoking campaign.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine focussed on heart disease.

Unlike lung cancer, smoking can harm the heart very quickly.

But within a year of someone stopping smoking, their excess risk of a heart attack is halved, so the effects of a reduction in smoking on heart disease show up quickly.

The British Heart Foundation estimates 20% of deaths from coronary heart disease in men and 17% in women in the UK are due to smoking.

Heart death link

Researchers from the University of California in San Francisco looked at how many cigarettes were smoked in the state, and assessed the risk of death from coronary heart disease linked to smoking.

They compared heart disease death rates in California for nine years before the campaign started, and in the nine years of the campaign for which statistics were available.

They also looked at heart death statistics from outside California.

The comparisons enabled them to estimate how many deaths there would have been in California without the campaign.

Previous research by the same group had estimated that the campaign had been linked to a fall in the numbers smoking and the number of cigarettes smoked.

In 1988, Californian voters backed Proposition 99, which increased tax on cigarettes by 25 cents per pack and directed five cents to an anti-tobacco education programme, the largest of its kind.

A high-profile media campaign was launched, attacking the tobacco industry, and initiative to promote clean indoor air.

'Campaigns work'

Stanton Glantz, UCSF professor of medicine who led the research, said: "Our results show that large-scale, aggressive tobacco control programmes save lives.

"They also show there is a real human price to be paid when the tobacco industry succeeds in convincing politicians to cut back and water down these programs."

The researchers also compared how many cigarettes were smoked in California compared with the rest of the US, and estimated 2.9 billion fewer packs were smoked between 1989 and 1997 than would have been the case.

They suggested the cutbacks to the programme in the mid 1990s was responsible for an extra billion packets of cigarettes being smoked in California between 1993 and 1997.

At that time, the campaign was changed to be targeted more at children.

But the researchers said: "Scaling back or weakening such programs by limiting them to children, as the tobacco industry and some representatives of public health community advocate, is associated with an increase in death."

Clive Bates, chairman of ASH
Clive Bates, chairman of ASH

Clive Bates, director of Action on Smoking and Health said: "There's a correlation between how much we spend and how fast the rate of smoking comes down.

"It's how much money they use and how much its spent is what matters."

A spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation said: "This is good news for America and is yet further evidence that health education programmes can make a big, positive difference."

She added: "We will continue with our own educational and research programmes and will continue funding anti-smoking organisations such as ASH to help reduce the number of smokers in the UK."

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See also:

13 Dec 00 | Health
Tough tobacco warnings approved
06 Dec 00 | Health
Tobacco ad ban back on agenda
21 Nov 00 | Health
Nicotine patches 'should be free'
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