A Brief History of Breathe California

Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails (BREATHE), founded in Sacramento in 1917 as the Sacramento Society for the Prevention and Cure of Tuberculosis, has been a champion for clean air, healthy lungs and the elimination of lung disease in the Sacramento Region for more than 94 years. Partially because of financial and volunteer support from a community that cares about quality of life for everyone, BREATHE is one of the oldest and most active nonprofit agencies in the Sacramento area. Since its beginnings, BREATHE has counted on the generosity of Northern California residents. Please give what you can to advance a vision of a region where clean air prevails.

The Early Days

When the Sacramento Society for the Prevention and Cure of Tuberculosis was established in December 1917, tuberculosis was killing one in five Americans and was the leading cause of death in the United States. Between 1917 and the mid-1960s, the agency performed community awareness and education programs, set up a free tuberculosis clinic and organized a well-baby clinic. The agency also established a summer camp for undernourished children, piloted a school nutrition program, instituted a free dental clinic for children and handled a mass X-ray screening.

Three seminal events took place in the 1960s and early ’70s that led the organization to change its focus:

1) The dramatic reduction in TB incidence. This dramatic decrease in incidents paved the way to focus on other lung diseases.
2) The announcement by the Surgeon General that tobacco use causes lung cancer and is the major cause of chronic bronchitis. Any serious effort to reduce lung disease now would have to incorporate reducing tobacco use.
3) An increasing awareness of environmental conditions like air pollution and their relation to health issues.

Changing Times

Starting in the 1970s, the local group initiated three separate programs to reduce tobacco use. Efforts were aimed at discouraging tobacco use among young people, supporting smokers in their efforts to quit, and protecting nonsmokers. These initiatives yielded a number of acclaimed projects including the passage of Proposition 99, a tobacco tax increase that funds prevention programs and ordinances prohibiting smoking in public spaces.

The efforts of BREATHE and many environmental groups also were instrumental in the passing of the Clean Air Initiative. Among other advances, the Clean Air Initiative provided funding for transit programs, which ultimately brought light-rail transit to the capitol region. In addition, other programs dealing with agricultural burning, automobile maintenance, and land-use and transportation helped to reduce air pollution.


While our organization has changed its name* many times over the past century, we have always been dedicated to improving lung health in our local community. Today, Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails continues to further develop and enhance programs and coalitions that directly affect respiratory health and disease. The organization sees a future of clean air and healthy lungs, and is working diligently to ensure that vision.

*For a number of years, Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails was affiliated with the American Lung Association (ALA) and the American Lung Association of California (ALAC). In 2006, Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails ended its affiliation with the ALA and the ALAC and is no longer affiliated in any way with those organizations. Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails continues its mission dedicated to healthy air and preventing lung and other air-pollution related diseases by partnering with youth, advocating public policy, supporting air pollution research, and educating the public.

Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails is committed to the fight for clean air, healthy lungs and a tobacco-free future in Northern California.

We are a recognized 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
Tax ID#: 94-1641240

A member of the
Breathe America™ Alliance

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