TULARE COUNTY – California is smoking the competition when it comes to reducing tobacco use across the country, but the Central Valley and Tulare County are choking on fumes.
In its annual State of Tobacco Control report, the American Lung Association ranked California in the front of the pack, earning an A grade for Smokefree Air policies and Bs for Tobacco Prevention and Control Funding, Tobacco Tax, Minimum Age, and Access to Cessation Services. These grades overall place California within the top 5 states in the country and reflect California’s dedication to ending the tobacco epidemic.
Despite the significant progress, half of California’s population still lives in communities scoring a D or F. Only 6 percent of Californians live in areas with an A grade. The State of Tobacco Control graded all 58 counties and 482 incorporated cities and towns on four key areas of tobacco control, and the Central Valley is lagging far behind. Tulare, Fresno, Kings, Madera, and Merced all received an overall grade of F. Kern County faired the best of the Fs with Bakersfield earning a B and Tehachapi getting a C.
The only cities listed on the rise in the Central Valley region were Dinuba, Reedley, and Ridgecrest. Dinuba’s “rise” was in one category, Smokefree Outdoor Air, from an F grade to a D. Dinuba and Exeter received a 4 for Recreation Areas, meaning all recreation areas, including parks, trails, ball fields, and playgrounds, are 100% smoke free. Lindsay, Tulare, Visalia, and unincorporated communities of Tulare County scored a 2 in Recreation Areas, meaning smoking is restricted in some but not all recreation areas. Every Tulare County community received zero points in all other categories. According to the Amercian Lung Association, Tulare County communities need to do more to create smoke free environments in all outdoor areas, including construction sites, sidewalks, and outdoor dining areas at restaurants. The report also suggests that Tulare County do a better job of limiting secondhand smoke exposure in apartment complexes, and pass laws requiring retailers to see a driver’s license before selling tobacco products.
Dinuba was the only Tulare County city to score a single point in the Emerging Issues category, which looks for city policies that place restrictions on the sale of new products, such as those marketing to minors with fun flavors, and the sale of tobacco at pharmacies, create buffer zones between tobacco retailers and schools, and the implement minimum packaging standards for cigars.
Tobacco continues to be the number one cause of preventable death in California. Over one-quarter of all cancer deaths in California are attributable to smoking, and over 9,000 kids start smoking each year.
The tobacco industry continues to find creative ways to hook new generations of smokers by marketing and selling new products. Local tobacco control efforts have remained diligent in taking common sense approaches and pushing necessary policies to address new challenges. Communities throughout California are taking strong stances to protect their youth and all residents from the harms of tobacco.
To highlight these efforts, in coordination with the national report, the American Lung Association in California releases its State of Tobacco Control 2019 – California Local Grades report to track how well California municipalities protect their citizens from the burden of tobacco. The State of Tobacco Control 2019 – California Local Grades report is based on a review of county and municipal codes in four key areas for all 58 counties (which covers the unincorporated areas of each county) and 482 incorporated cities and towns in the state. Since the first such report in 2009, the number of communities with an overall A or B grade has increased dramatically.
“The purpose of the State of Tobacco Control 2019 – California Local Grades report is to increase public knowledge about local laws that protect residents from the deadly toll of tobacco and to encourage local leadership to take action where improvement is needed,” the report states.
Grades are not intended to reflect the efforts of local tobacco control coalitions, the broader public health community or organizations working to advance local tobacco control policies. Instead, responsibility for enacting these life- and revenue-saving policies falls to elected officials in each community.
“Leadership on key issues and solutions to these difficult problems can come from every level of government,” the report states. “Local elected officials can, and should, take steps to protect residents from tobacco and secondhand smoke.”