Valley cities flunk American Lung Association's tobacco report card

The Fresno BeeJanuary 22, 2014 

Nearly every city and county in the central San Joaquin Valley flunked the American Lung Association's "State of Tobacco Control 2014" report card released Wednesday.

The report grades all cities and counties in the state on key tobacco control policies. It grades each county and city based on three criteria: smoke-free outdoor air, smoke-free housing, and reducing sales of tobacco products.

In Fresno County, every city received an F with the exception of Firebaugh, which got a C, and Parlier, which got a D.

Leila Gholamrezaei-Eha, a health educator for the Fresno County Department of Public Health, said the department is doing its best to reduce tobacco consumption, but relies on voluntary policies — not mandates.

"One of the things that people need to keep in mind is that we focus on voluntary policies. For example we work with apartment managers to adopt smoke-free policies," she said. "Maybe this can be a call to action to elected officials to look at this issue as a priority."

Firebaugh, Parlier and Fowler are the only cities that have adopted tobacco retail licensing ordinances, Gholamrezaei-Eha said.

The ordinances place a fee on tobacco retailers and then the cities use the money to pay law enforcement to make sure retailers are not selling tobacco to minors, Gholamrezaei-Eha said. Depending on the ordinance, if the business is caught it could lose its license or it could be suspended.

About 110 communities in California have adopted a tobacco retail license, Gholamrezaei-Eha said.

"It's happening in a lot of places and it's been proven to reduce tobacco sales to minors," she added.

Tulare, Kings, Madera, Mariposa and Merced counties all received an F in the report.

Jason T. Britt, Tulare County's director of public health, said thanks to the county's tobacco control efforts in 2013, six apartment complexes became smoke-free.

"Despite the findings of the report on the statewide level, Tulare County continues to put tobacco control at the forefront of public health," he said.

A national report released Wednesday that grades states gave California an A for smoke-free air policies, said spokeswoman Justina Felix with the American Lung Association.

However, the state received a D for its low cigarette tax of 87 cents per pack, an F for failing to adequately fund tobacco prevention and control programs, and an F for poor coverage of smoking cessation and treatment services, she said.

Jim Knox, a vice president at the American Cancer Society in Sacramento, said not only the public but elected officials can learn from these results.

"It just goes to show that we have a long ways to go to eliminate the death and financial toll caused by tobacco," he said.

The reports have laid out a game plan for what cities need to do to improve their tobacco control policies, offering very specific information, Knox said.

"I think it's clear the public should expect stronger policies because tobacco is still the leading cause of death in California," he said. "It's a major public risk and should be treated accordingly."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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