Issue Date: March 12, 2007
Moving From Research To Public Policy
At a meeting on impacts of environmental contaminants convened by the University of California, San Francisco, speakers discussed some lessons learned in trying to move beyond research results to changes in laws and policies and eventually to societal changes.
California's experience in reducing tobacco use shows that a state that takes a lead on an environmental issue can surpass the rest of the country in attaining health benefits, said Richard J. Jackson, adjunct professor of environmental health sciences at UC Berkeley. California was the first state to ban smoking in the workplace. "The tobacco industry opposed virtually every California initiative to reduce tobacco use," he observed, "but state and local initiatives eventually prevailed."
In California, adult average consumption of cigarettes dropped from 127 packs per year in 1986 to 44 packs per year in 2004, while in the rest of the U.S., adult average annual consumption dropped from 157 packs to 91 packs, Jackson said. "Over that same period, the incidence of lung cancer in California fell 21%, while in the rest of the U.S. it declined only 4%."
Now, California is looking at other big opportunities that eventually could improve the health of children and adults, Jackson said. For example, at least 10 bills have been introduced that aim to curb the obesity epidemic, and a chemical biomonitoring bill has passed, which may eventually lead to greater awareness of chemical exposures and stronger efforts to reduce them, he said.
"We have learned in California that research is important. But it has no effect unless it is communicated to the public and results in new policies and legislation," Jackson said. "We have also learned that nothing goes forward at the federal level unless the states act first. And nothing happens at the state level unless action is taken at the community level."
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