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Palo Alto Receives 'D' Grade for Smoking Ordinances

American Lung Association graded all California cities on anti-smoking ordinances.

The received a D grade for its ordinances on tobacco control, according to the American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control Report 2010.

This is the second year in a row that Palo Alto has scored an overall tobacco grade of two points out of a possible 12. In fact, two-thirds of all California cities received an F grade in the 2010 report.   

So, who got an A?

In Santa Clara, only the unincorporated areas of the county walked away unscathed. These unincorporated areas were graded together on the Tobacco Control reports and received straight A’s in the 2010 report.

That score was a marked improvement over 2009, when Santa Clara County’s unincorporated areas received an F in smoke-free outdoor air, a D grade in smoke-free housing and an "F" for reducing sales of tobacco products. Unincorporated areas of the county include communities such as Burbank, Richmond, Fruitdale, Stanford and Loyola.

“There was no way we could go into every city and sniff the air,” says Chen, so the report’s findings are strictly based on city and county municipal codes.

Three ordinances passed in late 2010 helped to boost the grade of Santa Clara County’s unincorporated areas. Under the multi-unit residences ordinance, smoking in duplexes, condo, townhouses and apartments is prohibited. Public smoking in areas like the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, county parks and outdoor service lines was also banned. A Tobacco Retailer Permit Ordinance was passed in November 2010 and requires tobacco stores to renew a license annually.

The American Lung Association developed a grading system as a way to let people know the state of tobacco control where they live, explains Serena Chen, American Lung Association policy advocacy director for California. Chen also notes that these grades make it easier for cities to analyze where they might be lacking. 

In 2009-10, 38 California cities enacted tighter smoking policies as a result of the report.

10 percent of adults in Santa Clara County and nine percent of high school and middle school students are smokers. In addition, about 25 percent of smokers in middle school and 66 percent of high school smokers say that cigarettes are easy to get, according to a Santa Clara County 2010 Tobacco Use Fact Sheet.

Tobacco is still the No. 1 source of preventable disease and death in California, the ALA is quick to point out in defense of its rigorous grading system. Tobacco is known to cause cancer, heart disease, respiratory diseases and infant death. Approximately one in five deaths in the U.S. are attributed to smoking each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2008. An estimated 49,000 of these deaths are caused by secondhand smoke.

Chen emphasizes that the bad grades on the Tobacco Control report aren’t meant to punish cities, but to give concrete examples of how they can improve. “If you believe that passing these laws is a valid way to protect people, you should look at the possibilities," Chen says.

The annual report, established in 2003, issues letter grades on a state, county and local grade for how comprehensive tobacco control laws and spending are. The scoring system follows the most current best practices as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Overall tobacco control grades as issued by the ALA were calculated as an average of three different areas: smoke-free outdoor air, smoke-free housing and the reduction of tobacco product sales. Each of these sections was graded on a point system, which was then translated to a letter grade of A through F, with the possibility of bonus points.

Smoke-free Outdoor Air  

Palo Alto received a C grade for its outdoor smoking policies with a score of 10 points.

The city prohibits smoking in all public places and all service waiting areas, such as public transit stops or ATM lines. Smoking is also prohibited in at least 50 percent of unenclosed eating establishments.

By restricting smoking in the following places, Palo Alto can improve its grade:

  • All outdoor dining areas.
  • Entryways, i.e. entrances, exits or other openings into enclosed areas.
  • Outdoor public events like fairs, farmers markets, parades and concerts.

Cities were awarded bonus points for having gone above and beyond ALA’s standards by enforcing smoking restrictions within:

  • Pedestrian walkways in commercial areas.
  • Outdoor places of employment (added to the 2010 report).

Smoke-free Housing  

Palo Alto scored an F grade with zero points for its smoke-free housing policies. To meet ALA’s recommendations, Palo Alto needs municipal codes that:

  • Restrict smoke in outdoor common areas in multi-unit housing units, including areas where smoking is allowed.
  • Designate non-smoking units within multi-unit housing units.
  • Require landlords of apartments or sellers of condominiums to disclose information about smoking restrictions on the property to potential tenants or buyers.

Bonus points were given to cities that:

  • Declared involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke a nuisance.
  • Required a certain percentage of multi-unit housing under the city or county housing authority to be nonsmoking.

Reducing Sales of Tobacco Products  

Palo Alto can also improve on making it harder to sell tobacco products by:

  • Requiring businesses that sell tobacco to apply for a tobacco retail license that must be renewed annually.

But Palo Alto can reduce tobacco product sales even further—and gain bonus points on the Tobacco Control Report card—by doing the following:

  • Restricting the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies.
  • Banning the distribution of tobacco product samples.
  • Prohibiting the sale of tobacco within a specified distance of a school or park (added to the 2010 report).

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