State scores an A for Smokefree Air efforts

Grades tumble to D and F in 2 other areas

(January 19, 2011)

venura-county-star

January 20, 2011


California maintained its A rating in one of the categories of the 2010 State of Tobacco Control report released today, but slipped from a D to an F in another category.  

The report comes at the same time that the California Lung Association and other backers are looking forward to a vote on a $1 per pack cigarette tax that may come eight months sooner than expected.

For the past nine years, the American Lung Association has released a report tracking federal and state progress on how well the government is protecting citizens from health problems caused by tobacco use. Each state and the federal government receives grades in four main areas.

California earned an F in Tobacco Prevention and Control Spending, and Cessation categories; a D in Cigarette Tax; and an A in its Smokefree Air efforts. The grades were the same in 2009 except for the drop in the Cessation category.

According to Tom Carr, American Lung Association director of national policy, California fell short in terms of what it spends to help people quit tobacco products.

“The recommendation is that California spend $441 million on tobacco prevention and cessation,” Carr said. “They spent $75 million.”

California’s tobacco tax ranks 33rd in the country at 87 cents per pack, one of three states in the country that hasn’t raised its tobacco tax since 1999.

If Gov. Jerry Brown gets the special election he wants in June, the California Cancer Research Act will be on the ballot, according to Paul Knepprath, vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association in California. It had originally been planned for the February 2012 election.

Approved in August, the tobacco tax initiative would place a $1 tax on each pack of cigarettes. The initiative is designed to raise more than $500 million to fund anti-tobacco education efforts as well as help create new ways to prevent, detect, treat and cure cancer.

Smoker Alex Fernandez, 31, of Oxnard, said he’s not happy with an extra $1 per pack as he’s already paying almost $7 per pack.

“If they go up higher, I’m just going to quit,” Fernandez said, adding that he’s skeptical about all the money raised going to cancer research and smoking cessation.

If the measure is approved, Knepprath said, 75 percent of the revenues would go toward cancer research; 20 percent toward smoking cessation and prevention; 3 percent to law enforcement (preventing illegal sales to minors, for example); and 2 percent to administration and overhead.

“I see this two ways,” said Maile Ball, 30, of Ventura. “I totally don’t believe in smoking, so I say, yes, tax them, make them stop. But on the other hand, everybody has a vice, and I wouldn’t appreciate it if somebody was taxing my vice.”

A spokesman for Altria Group Inc., formerly Phillip Morris Companies Inc., said states already have a “tremendous” amount of money available to them through a variety of channels, including an annual revenue states get through the Masters Settlement Agreement in the late 1990s.

The annual settlement comes from four of the largest tobacco companies to 46 states, including California.

“California receives a significant amount of money every year,” said Altria spokesman David Sutton. “That money could be used for smoking cessation prevention programs.”

Asked if Altria will become involved in lobbying against the California Cancer Research Act, Sutton said he couldn’t speculate, but said “Altria always advocates for its positions on issues. We continue to make our views known.”

Ventura County Public Health Medical Officer Dr. Robert Levin wished the state report card was better, but offered some perspective.

“They don’t get in there and roll up their sleeves and look at how effective the county really is,” Levin said. “They base their entire evaluation on how many ordinances that are passed.”

Levin pointed out that of the 37 outdoor smoke ordinances in cities throughout the state, three of those are in Ventura County — Camarillo, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks.

In addition, he said, Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Thousand Oaks have all adopted policies to protect people in multi-unit dwellings from secondhand smoke. And all three community colleges have smoke-free campus policies, he said.

Levin also noted the Ventura County Tobacco Education and Prevention Coalition works on tobacco control issues in the county, such as public education, reducing tobacco access to minors, and reducing secondhand smoke exposure.

“We’ve been pretty successful,” Levin said. “Our smoking rate is 13 percent in the county and statewide, it’s 14.3 percent. That means 87 percent of the people in our county don’t smoke.”

Although he’s pleased with all Ventura County Public Health is doing to reduce smoking in the county, he wants us to do better.

“I’d like to think we’ll continue to move up on this grading scale as the years go by,” Levin said. “In a nutshell, an F is unacceptable."