Marin cities fare poorly in group’s tobacco control report card

Marin cities are not doing well when it comes to tobacco control policies, earning below a “D” grade on average, according to an Marin citiesAmerican Lung Association report card issued Thursday.

“One might say there is room for improvement,” said Pam Granger, a spokeswoman for the association. “But there is some forward movement occurring in Marin.”

Overall grades — which were mostly the same as last year in Marin — were based on three categories: laws to encourage smoke-free outdoor air; smoke-free housing; and reduction in sales of tobacco products.

Belvedere, Corte Madera, Larkspur, Mill Valley, Sausalito and Tiburon all flunked in controlling tobacco use.

“We are not working on anything here,” said Belvedere City Manager George Rodericks. “We have virtually no commercial businesses to impose smoking standards on and there is no desire in the community to look at housing. Belvederians are a healthy bunch anyway.”

The Larkspur City Council on Wednesday worked on changes to its smoking ordinance, which would bar smoking in condominium and apartment buildings — except in designated areas — and declare lighting up a public nuisance, Mayor Larry Chu said. The proposed changes will likely come back to the council for a vote in February.

“I don’t look at the grade and say ‘Oh, well, Larkspur has to improve it,'” Chu said. “I’m looking at it and saying, ‘Do we have adequate protections from second-hand and tertiary smoke?’ It’s a health and safety issue. If what we’ve done gets us an ‘A’ grade, well then, great.”

Fairfax and San Anselmo earned “D” grades, while Ross, San Rafael and the county received “C” grades. Supervisor Charles McGlashan said other issues have pushed smoking laws to the back burner.

“We are so busy with the bag ordinance, Marin Clean Energy and other things we don’t have the bandwidth to deal with it right now,” he said. “But it is on our list.”

Novato was at the top of the class with a “B.”

In 2008, that city amended its laws to require 50 to 75 percent of multi-family housing units to be smoke-free, declared cigarette smoke a public nuisance and banned smoking in places selling food or drink and in public areas such as bus stops, automatic teller machines, parks and entertainment venues. It also calls for 80 percent of rooms in hotels and motels to be smoke free.

“We were one of the first jurisdictions to pass that type of law in the county and others are now looking at the same thing,” said Novato Mayor Madeline Kellner.

Fairfax, Larkspur, Mill Valley and Tiburon are all working toward new smoke rules, said Granger, who also is an official with the Smoke-Free Marin Coalition.

“We are anticipating some real movement on second-hand smoke in Marin,” she said.

Smokers said they are aware of cities clamping down on their ability to light up, but that doesn’t stop all of them.

Ben Phillips, 57, who was smoking a cigarette outside Starbucks at Fourth and A streets in San Rafael on Thursday, said he hasn’t had any issues lighting up outside in Marin.

“There’s a law you can’t smoke in front of cafes and bars,” Phillips said. “They’re not enforcing it. I haven’t really had any problems.”

But half a block away at City Plaza, Gerry Houston and Franz Miller, both of San Rafael, said times are getting tougher for Marin smokers.

“I think we should be able to smoke in waiting rooms, that restaurants should have a smoking section because that’s how they know you’re done eating,” said Houston, who is trying to quit. “I have a friend — she rented a condominium, but she had to go outside to smoke.”

And passersby often give smokers dirty looks on the street, Miller said.

“It’s a little bit of a sore spot to me because the looks people give you — it’s a little bit like being considered the new lepers,” Miller said. “They’ll be 50 feet away, and they’ll start coughing when it isn’t even lit.”

In California, tobacco takes a significant toll on public health and taxpayer dollars, according to the lung association. Nearly 4 million people in California smoke, and tobacco-related illness remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the state, killing 36,000 people a year. Smoking claims more lives than alcohol, HIV/AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined, according to the association.

“It’s time to raise the grade,” said Ken Shitamoto, chairman of the association’s California Greater Bay Area Leadership Board. “Strong local tobacco control policies must be a top priority for our elected officials.”

By Mark Prado
Marin Independent Journal

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