Few cities get the grade over smoking laws

(January 21, 2011)

la_daily_news

January 21, 2011

Even with Los Angeles and California pioneering new limits on public smoking over the past two decades, the American Lung Association on Thursday issued failing grades to two-thirds of the state's cities and counties for tobacco control.

"Once a national leader in tobacco control policies, California now earns mixed results," the organization said as it released a report that also grades the federal government and all 50 states.

Los Angeles city was given a C grade on the city-by-city report card, even though it recently implemented more restrictive measures on outdoor smoking, while Calabasas and Glendale earned A's.

Jane Warner, president and CEO of the organization, said strong tobacco control laws must be a priority for elected officials.

"California's tobacco tax is too low," Warner said. "Cigarettes are too cheap and we are failing to adequately protect our children from becoming regular cigarette smokers."

California's tax is now at 87 cents per pack, below the national average of $1.45. The American Lung Association is sponsoring a ballot measure that would increase the tax by $1 per pack to fund prevention and control programs and cancer research.

The initiative has qualified for the ballot and will be before voters at the next statewide election.

Burbank was given an overall grade of B, while Santa Clarita was given an F, ranking low in categories such as maintaining smokefree outdoor air and housing and reducing sales of tobacco products.

Los Angeles Councilman Greig Smith said the city has no control over tobacco taxes and that efforts are under way to have further limitations on smoking in public.

"We have a new law taking effect in a few weeks that will further limit smoking in restaurants and are looking to other ways to limit secondhand smoke," Smith said.

Paul Knepprath, vice president of Advocacy and Health Initiatives, said the organization is trying to focus on local initiatives to control smoking.

"To us, this is not a rights issue, but a health issue," Knepprath said.

"We want cities and counties to develop smoke-free areas outdoors and in housing. So many people are living in apartments and reducing tobacco use there is a top priority."

Knepprath said the state retained its leadership position in controlling smoking in the workplace, but has fallen in its funding of prevention programs.

"We estimate California has 4 million adults who smoke and ... we should have $441 million to have an effective anti-smoking program," he said. "Right now, the state is spending $75 million. We think it has a long way to go."