Tuesday, 23 July 2024

State, Lake County receive poor grades on Tobacco Policy Report Card

LAKE COUNTY – Although it's known for its clean air, Lake County got dismal grades on the American Lung Association's latest Tobacco Policy Report Card.

The report, released last month, gave the state of California a failing grade in battling tobacco's lethal effects, despite the fact that the state once had been a national leader in the effort.

“It’s time to raise the grade,” said American Lung Association in California President and Chief Executive Officer Jane Warner, who pointed to mixed results across all levels of the state. “For all Californians, strong tobacco control policies must be a top priority.”

The annual report card looked at 373 cities and 34 counties throughout California and graded them on how they protect citizens from the effects of secondhand smoke in outdoor environments and multi-unit housing.

Specifically, the rankings are based on the ordinances cities and counties have in place covering smokefree outdoor environments, smokefree housing and tobacco sales reductions, with each of those areas averaged to reach an overall grade.

The city of Clearlake received an F grade, with no points earned for requiring dining, entryways, public events, recreation areas, service areas and sidewalks to be smokefree.

The report also found no nonsmoking units, common areas or disclosures under housing grades, and in reducing tobacco products the city had no points for such issues as tobacco retailer licensing and requiring conditional use permits.

The county received identical marks, based on the report.

The city of Lakeport fared slightly better.

Although it received an F grade overall, Lakeport received a D in outdoor air grades because it earned three points for having smokefree recreation areas, which were established in Ordinance No. 859, unanimously accepted by the council on Nov. 21, 2006, according to city records. An earlier version of the ordinance included provisions regarding smoking in front of businesses, which the council removed.

The county and cities weren't alone in their grades. The report listed 271 cities and counties that received overall F grades.

Four cities – Richmond, Albany, Calabasas and Glendale – received overall A grades, according to the report. In addition, 24 cities and counties received A grades for smokefree outdoor air regulations, six earned A grades for smokefree housing and 60 obtained A grades for reducing sales of tobacco products.

The report was released last month in Richmond, where officials pointed out that the city had, in one year, raised its F and D grades to A grades after enacting new ordinances. The city now has the strongest smokefree housing ordinance in the nation, prohibiting smoking in 100 percent of all multi-unit housing, which accounts for some 34 percent of all housing in the city.

California received low grades overall for failing to adequately fund tobacco prevention and control programs, which are reportedly now at less than one-fifth the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended level.

Doug Gearhart, Lake County Air Quality Management District's pollution control officer, said the report is really a review of policies with a view toward protecting nonsmokers, and is looking for local rules that go beyond the basic state laws, which include not being able to smoke within 30 feet of a public building entrance.

Smoking is an air quality issue, Gearhart said. He said the state has determined that secondhand smoke is a toxic air contaminant.

The report gave California high marks for state laws that protect the public from secondhand smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces.

At the same time, however, the state received D grades for California's failure to raise the tobacco tax and provide cessation treatment and services to help people quit smoking.

Pam Granger, tobacco programs manager for the American Lung Association's North Coast region – stretching from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border – said that although Lake County's local grades don't look great, the report's grades can be an impetus to moving forward.

She said the whole point of the report is to increase public awareness as well as give the association a chance to recognize leadership when improvements have been made.

The Bay Area and the North Bay region – including Sonoma and Marin counties – have some of the best and strongest grades in the state, said Granger.

In Santa Rosa, efforts started when a bus operator went to the city council to complain about smokers coming into buses, she said.

In other areas, tenants in multi-housing units have raised the issue of clean air concerns. Granger said studies have shown that there is a 65-percent exchange in the air in common areas, meaning people are being exposed to secondhand smoke from their neighbors. That's of special concern in living situations where there are young families and seniors.

In Rohnert Park, the mayor had lived in a multi-unit housing complex and advocated for stricter rules to protect tenants, said Granger.

She said multi-unit housing where smoking restrictions have been put in place have benefited from fewer fires and lower replacement values for carpet and inside fixtures when a tenant moves out.

Addressing secondhand smoke is important because of its long-term health impacts on people, and its more immediate impacts on people with compromised conditions, who can have serious reactions in as little as 20 minutes, she explained.

“That's why we care,” she said.

Smoking is the sixth-largest cause of death in the United States, said Granger. “That you can stop.”

The measures that local governments can take don't have to be expensive, said Granger. They can include signs and some basic restrictions on where people can smoke.

Some areas also have stricter regulations in dealing with tobacco sales. Granger said in Marin County officials can pull a tobacco license if sales are made to minors. In the cities of Ukiah and Willits they have compliance checks that are paid for by Mendocino County. The city of Oakland has a licensing program that charges retailers $1,500 which supports the enforcement program.

Granger said she offers implementation support for cities that want to put new control measures in place.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, California now ranks 32nd for its $.87 per pack tax, far below the national average of $1.34, according to the American Lung Association in California report.

Tobacco remains a major cause of concern for public health in California, according to the report, and costs taxpayers more than $18 million every year.

The state is home to nearly four million smokers, and tobacco is still California's No. 1 preventable cause of death. The report estimates that 36,684 people die annually because of the effects of smoking, a number that is more than the deaths resulting from alcohol, HIV/AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

Joy Swetnam, who works with Lake Family Resource Center's Lake County Tobacco Education Program, said the report doesn't look at ongoing efforts to reduce smoking.

She said decisions have to be made locally about whether or not a community supports the kinds of measures the association is seeking, such as changes in multi-unit housing rules.

Swetnam said there is a lot of movement right now in the two cities and the county to work at reducing things like underage smoking, an effort which takes time and education and community support.

“So we get a failing grade but it's not like we're not working on it and haven't been working on it,” she said, noting that the county just renewed its contract with the tobacco education program.

She said the county wants the program to continue with the youth purchase survey, which helps keep merchants aware of state and federal laws covering tobacco sales to minors.

Meanwhile, there is big support for trying to get the anti-smoking message out to younger students – such as fourth through sixth graders – but tobacco youth prevention funds have dried up, and funds are only available for high school-level education, Swetnam said.

“All the legislation in the world is not going to keep a child from starting smoking, because they don't have the education,” said Swetnam, noting that getting to high school and junior high students is too late.

She said many children start smoking as young as 11 or 12 years old, and some girls now are chewing tobacco to control their weight.

Complete report cards for all cities and counties may be accessed at www.californialung.org/raisethegrade along with complete scoring criteria.

The report card's release coincided with that of the American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control 2009 national report card, which not only graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia but the federal government as well.

That report gave California an A for smokefree air, but D grades for cigarette tax and cessation coverage and an F for tobacco prevention and control spending.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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