Marin County posts poor scores in annual tobacco law 'report card'

(January 19, 2012)

Marin is doing a poor job of cracking down on cigarette smoking, according to a new analysis by the American Lung Association that gives the county an overall D grade on the local "state of tobacco control."

The association's annual "report card" on curbing smoking gave Belvedere, Corte Madera, Mill Valley and Sausalito failing grades, and San Anselmo a D. Getting a C score were Fairfax, Ross, San Rafael, Tiburon and the county's unincorporated area.

Although Larkspur last year enacted the toughest anti-smoking law on the books in Marin, the association's review continued to give Novato, which passed anti-smoking legislation in 2008, the county's highest rating. Novato garnered nine out of 12 points, getting a B, followed by Larkspur, also rated a B with eight points.

Pam Granger, a lung association spokeswoman, said that Novato edged Larkspur because it outlaws tobacco sales near schools and parks, while Larkspur does not. San Rafael has a similar sales restriction.

Both Novato and Larkspur outlaw smoking in apartments and condominiums with shared walls, with Larkspur's new law the strictest in that regard. County supervisors are considering a similar measure.

Novato Councilwoman Madeline Kellner noted Novato's law is "a far-reaching one" that includes a communication campaign and "systems in place between our police department and code enforcement unit to enforce" it.

Marin Supervisor Susan Adams, a nurse, noted that "the health consequences of tobacco are serious and costly" and that the county is "currently considering a series of smoking ordinance changes, one of which will strengthen protections for nonsmokers in multiunit residences, similar to what Larkspur has done."

Asked how an affluent, liberal enclave like Mill Valley could flunk a lung association tobacco survey, Mill Valley Mayor Garry Lion noted the advocacy group has a "very stringent set of grading criteria."

Lion, saying he had not seen the latest survey, added he intends to renew a call for anti-smoking legislation this year. He noted a multifaceted proposal was put on the back-burner by the City Council for more "community input" last year when a bid to outlaw smoking in condominiums and apartments spurred concern.

Failing grades posted by Mill Valley, Belvedere, Sausalito and Corte Madera, as well as marks for other jurisdictions, are based on tobacco control laws and regulations in effect as of Jan. 1, 2012 and are available at

The association study indicates Marin's mediocre showing is a slight improvement

from recent years. The agency's 2010 report gave five Marin cities failing grades, while four got Ds, two received Cs and Novato got a B, one of only 11 jurisdictions statewide to receive that grade. In 2008, seven Marin cities received failing grades.

The association used the report, which gives California an overall D score, to trumpet support for the California Cancer Research Act on the June ballot, a proposal to raise the state's tobacco tax by $1 per pack. Revenues would finance treatment, prevention and cures for lung disease, heart disease and stroke, cancer, and other tobacco-related illnesses, tripling the state's funding for tobacco prevention and cessation efforts.

The association's "state of tobacco control" report card grades all 50 states and the federal government on smoke-free outdoor air, smoke-free housing and reducing sales of tobacco products. Points are allocated, then totaled for an overall tobacco control grade.

California earned a D for ranking 33rd for its 87-cents-per-pack tax, far below the national average of $1.46. The state posted an F for failing to adequately fund tobacco prevention and control programs.

"With very few exceptions, 2011 was an abysmal year for state tobacco control measures across the country," the association said.