Bay Area gets mixed grades on smoking policies

(January 21, 2011)

san-francisco-chronicle

January 21, 2011

San Francisco and Oakland earned the highest grades among the state's 10 largest cities when it comes to protecting the public from tobacco use and secondhand smoke, according to a report card released by the American Lung Association on Thursday.

Grades were mixed for the Bay Area overall. San Jose, the state's third-largest city, earned an overall D, while the unincorporated parts governed by Santa Clara County received A's in every category scored.

California's grades, which were released in conjunction with a national report and included all 58 counties and the 480 cities and towns statewide for the first time, also varied when stacked up against the rest of the country.

The state earned an A for its smoking restrictions in public places, including work sites and schools, but got an F for its spending on tobacco control and prevention.

The state, once considered a national leader on tobacco control policies, has fallen behind in recent years, tobacco control advocates said.

"We really go from one end of the spectrum to the other," said Jane Warner, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association in California.

Warner blamed some of the state's poor showing on its relatively low cigarette tax, which at 87 cents per pack is far below the national average of $1.45. New York has the highest cigarette sales tax in the nation at $4.35.

An initiative that would raise the tobacco tax by $1 a pack to fund cancer research and smoking prevention programs has qualified for the state ballot. Voters could decide the issue as early as June if Gov. Jerry Brown calls for a special election.

Overall, the Bay Area fared better than many other parts of the state. Of the nine cities and county regions in California that earned an A for overall tobacco control, five of them are in the Bay Area: Albany, Contra Costa County, Richmond, Santa Clara County and Union City.

San Francisco and Oakland came in with B's for overall tobacco control. The most improved areas in the region included unincorporated Santa Clara County, which jumped from failing marks in 2009 to earning straight A's on its 2010 report card.

"What we have in the Bay Area are elected officials who are open to the idea public health is something they have the opportunity to protect. It's that simple," said Serena Chen, policy director for the American Lung Association in California.

Still, many of the Bay Area's cities - including Danville, Lafayette, Vallejo, Walnut Creek and Santa Clara - were among 359 cities and counties, or 67 percent of the jurisdictions in the state, to receive overall F scores.

In 2008, San Francisco became the first city in the country to ban tobacco sales in drugstores, and this year it voted to extend the ban to include big-box stores and supermarkets with on-site pharmacies. A law that prohibits people from smoking in outdoor dining areas and other public spaces, such as building entrances, went into effect in early November.

Alyonik Hrushow, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health's Tobacco Free Project, said the new anti-smoking ordinance helped boost the city's grade from an overall C to a B.

"We didn't do so well last year because we were falling behind on secondhand smoking, so it's really great to finally see we have a very comprehensive plan in place," she said, adding that addressing smoking in apartments is a near-term goal.

Making the grade for tobacco control

The American Lung Association released a report Thursday grading the state's cities and unincorporated county regions on various tobacco control policies. Here are some of the Bay Area results:

City/County Overall tobacco control Smoke-free outdoor air Smoke-free housing Reducing sales
San Francisco B B D A
Oakland B B B A
San Jose D D D F
Berkeley B A D A
Albany A A B A
Union City A A A A
Pleasanton D C D D
Walnut Creek F F F F
Richmond A A A A
Mill Valley F F D F
Unincorporated Santa Clara A A A A
Belmont B A A F
San Mateo D D F D
Vallejo F F F D

Source: American Lung Association

To see how other cities were graded and to view the entire report, "State of Tobacco Control 2010," visit www.lung.org/california.