City receives ‘F’ grade for smoking policies

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The American Lung Association recently released its seventh annual state “report card” assessing the overall tobacco control grade for major Californian cities and Malibu scored an “F.”

The report assesses each state’s efforts in four key tobacco control policy areas. Statewide, California earned an “A” for its smoke-free air laws, a “D” for its cigarette tax rate, an “F” for tobacco prevention and control program funding, and a “D” for insurance coverage of cessation treatments and services.

When broken down into individual municipalities, however, Malibu scored an “F” for overall tobacco control, a “D” for smokefree outdoor air, an “F” for smokefree housing and another “F” for reducing sales of tobacco products.

The only California city that received an “A” rating was Glendale, which last year passed a city ordinance banning smoking in any public places except the street or sidewalk several yards away from bus stops or sidewalk dining areas. Disposing of cigarettes in any public place is prohibited as well.

Malibu Public Safety Commissioner Susan Tellem said she would present a proposal before the city council as early as next month to emulate Glendale’s ordinance.

“This is a health and fire safety issue,” Tellem said. “I’ve been to Starbucks and had to leave the outdoor seating area because of the amount of smoke there. And people are always tossing cigarettes out of their cars. Considering the fire danger Malibu faces, this ordinance is vital to public safety.”

Indeed, the January 2007 fire that sparked at Bluffs Park was probably started by a tossed cigarette from a passing car, Detective Jim Gonzalez, of the county Sheriff’s Department, said.

Tellem noted she had been forced to ask Verizon employees working on telephone lines up in the driest hills of Malibu to snuff their cigarettes during the height of fire season. She said she didn’t expect to hear too much backlash from businesses, with restaurants already banning smoking on premises.

Tatiana Ennist, assistant manager at the Cross Creek Starbucks, said that smoking is not encouraged in their outdoor seating area.

“We don’t put out ashtrays,” Ennist said. “We always have to sweep up butts at the end of the day. I don’t think it [banning smoking] will affect business because people always need their coffee.”

With the dangers of second hand smoke becoming more widely known, more and more municipalities across the nation have been issuing total bans on smoking in public places, including outdoor restaurants, parks, city golf courses and other outdoor sports venues. In some cities, the results of smoking bans have been dramatic.

Paul G. Billings is the vice president of national policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association. He said you couldn’t argue with the statistics.

“After a city ordinance to completely ban smoking in public in Pueblo, Colo., the incidence of heart attacks dropped 27 percent in the first year of operation and 40 percent by the second year,” Billings said. “Helena, Montana saw a 40 percent reduction after going smoke free and Bloomington, Indiana dropped 29 percent. So, it’s not just a bi-coastal phenomenon. Mid-America is catching on, too. But it’s only after a long-fought campaign to educate public officials.”

Many antigovernment organizations have protested the bans, claiming that local tax revenues are affected by slumps in sales when restaurants and bars ban smoking.

“Well, second hand smoke affects the health of others,” Billings said. “One’s constitutional right to throw a punch ends at the tip of someone else’s nose.”

Steven Koszis, administrative analyst for the City of Glendale, disputed the argument of lost revenue after smoking bans.

“Actually, apartment owners probably see lower turnover costs and lower fire insurance premiums when smoking is banned in their buildings,” Koszis said. “Beverly Hills released a study that showed an increase in business tax revenue in 100 out of 300 restaurants after a ban was imposed. And that was even during the writers’ strike.”

Koszis said the key to effective implementation of such an ordinance is appropriate public education, giving plenty of time for residents and visitors to absorb the lessons and practical aspects of such a ban.

“The Chamber of Commerce was opposed to an outright ban at first,” Koszis said. “But we worked with them during the writing of the ordinance and they came on board. Now, they’re helping to educate the public.

“Our goal is compliance, not to make our citizens a bunch of criminals,” Koszis continued. “There are eight enforcement interactions, including verbal warnings and small citations, before you are cited for a misdemeanor.”

Tellem, who was a smoker until forced to give up the habit for health reasons, said that it was important to have an ordinance with “teeth,” noting that Malibu’s 2006 ban on beach smoking has seen mixed compliance.

“A draft proposal for the ordinance has already been written, so the city council as a whole should be in favor of it,” Tellem said. “But one issue might be that they have too much on their plate right now. But speaking as Public Safety Commissioner, it is high time for this ordinance.”

The American Lung Association of California’s report can be viewed online at www.californialung.org