County fails to reduce tobacco use

Most Central Valley counties receive an F grade in American Lung Association’s annual State of Tobacco Control report

By Reggie Ellis

TULARE COUNTY – Local governments got a failing grade when it comes to regulating tobacco use. 

All eight cities and county government in Tulare County all received an overall F in the American Lung Association’s annual State of Tobacco Control report. Released last month, the report tracks progress on key tobacco control policies at the state and federal levels as of January 2, 2020. The report assigns grades to every state in five key areas. This year’s report features California at the top of the pack, earning “A”s for Tobacco Prevention and Control Funding and Smokefree Air policies and “B”s for Tobacco Tax, Minimum Age, and Access to Cessation Services. These grades overall place us within the top 5 states in the country and reflect California’s dedication to ending the tobacco epidemic.

The scoring system is based on three categories assigned to every city: Smokefree outdoor air; smokefree housing; and reducing sales of tobacco products. Smokefree outdoor air consists of smoking restrictions in seven outdoor areas: dining areas, entryways, public events, recreation areas, service areas, sidewalks in commercial areas and worksites. Smokefree housing gages a city or county’s effort to pass ordinances to address second-hand smoke in multi-family housing including apartments, condos and common areas. The grade for reducing sales of tobacco products is determined by ordinances adopted regulating the retail sale of tobacco products. A fourth category, an emerging issues bonus, is scored for a community’s efforts, if there are any, to combat ways the tobacco industry promotes the use of tobacco products. The four categories are then used to calculate an overall score. 

The 2020 report dolled out zeros in every Tulare County community for smokefree dining, entryways, service areas, sidewalks and worksites. Visalia was the only city to earn any points for having smoke free public events while Exeter and Dinuba were the only cities to earn a grade of D for their having smokefree parks. According to the report, none of Tulare County has a policy for smokefree housing or for any ordinances to reduce the sale of tobacco products. Visalia and Tulare came the closest as they flirted with the idea of banning the sale of flavored tobacco, with the exception of mint and menthol, last fall. The Tulare council voted unanimously to have a citywide ban on flavored tobacco products brought back as an emergency ordinance but ultimately decided to delay a vote until after the federal government and state legislators had clarified their responses to the issue. Visalia may take up the issue sometime this year depending on what happens at the state level. 

In 2019, 29 communities passed laws restricting the sale of flavored tobacco, including Delano and Watsonville, bringing the total number of communities to 63. Delano received an overall grade of D but improved its grade in reducing tobacco sales from to an A and earned an emerging bonus point for the new law. 

Tulare County was not alone on the list of counties with F grades as five other Central Valley counties made the list including Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties as well as the rural northern California counties of Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Lassen, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Siskiyou, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne and Yuba counties. Nearly one-third of California residents live in areas that received an F grade. 

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