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 in fighting for clean air, healthy lungs and the elimination of lung disease in the Sacramento Region for more than 94 years. As one of the oldest and most active nonprofit agencies in the Sacramento area, BREATHE is committed to serving the needs of the local community. Whether focusing on the community, building coalitions and consensus or working to make positive changes, Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails has made a positive impact on the health and well-being of Northern California residents and their comprehensive approach to health issues is the impetus to their success.
When the Sacramento Society for the Prevention and Cure of 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. In fact, during World War II, the government secured all X-ray machines in the country except for the Sacramento group’s.
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. Upon learning this news, the agency realized any serious effort to reduce lung disease would have to incorporate reducing tobacco use.
3) An increasing awareness of environmental issues and their relation to health issues. The major topic of concern was air pollution.
Starting in the 1970s, the local group would initiate three separate programs to reduce tobacco use. Efforts were aimed at discouraging tobacco use among young people of all grade levels, encouraging and supporting smokers in their efforts to quit, and protecting nonsmokers. These programs 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, all of which emanated from the Sacramento offices.
The organization’s fight for clean air has three dimensions: creating community awareness, enhancing air quality management programs and addressing specific air quality issues. The efforts of the association and many environmental groups brought success at passing the Clean Air Initiative and its funding for transit programs, which ultimately brought light-rail transit to the capitol. In addition, other programs dealing with agricultural burning, automobile maintenance, and land-use and transportation have 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.