Up in smoke : LA, LAH receive F grades from American Lung Association

The American Lung Association’s recently released State of Tobacco Control 2013 report gave the cities of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills failing grades for its tobacco-use policies. But leaders in both cities responded with doubt as to how far municipal legislation could or should go in curbing private behavior.

The annual report – which tracks progress on tobacco control policies at the federal and state levels – gave Campbell the highest grade, a B, among cities in Santa Clara County.

The report grades each city using a points system in three specific categories: smoke-free outdoor air, smoke-free housing and reducing the sales of tobacco products. For instance, a city that has established ordinances banning smoking in outdoor seating areas at restaurants and bars receives four points, while those with no specific smoking restrictions at bars and restaurants receive none. Cumulatively, the points achieved in each category determine grades from A (11-12 points) to F (0-1 point).

Failing grades

Los Altos received one cumulative point for its ordinances restricting smoking in dining areas and recreational areas, while Los Altos Hills received none.

Reached by the Town Crier, Los Altos City Manager Marcia Somers noted that while she supports the organization’s efforts in educating the public on the dangers of smoking, its grading methodology is a “broad-brush approach at bringing to the public’s attention issues related to smoking.”

She said the city takes efforts to curb smoking in public seriously, pointing to Los Altos municipal code 6.28, an ordinance banning smoking in recreation areas. She added that the city has broadly defined the term to include public parking areas, parks, playgrounds, sports fields and other publicly owned areas throughout the city.

“There’s only so many things government agencies can do to alter personal behavior,” she said, noting that municipalities must walk a fine line – weighing public health versus individual rights – in establishing smoking ordinances on privately owned properties.

She added that the city regularly educates students on the health risks of smoking as well.

“There is education going on in the community, it’s just not reflected in what the (American Lung Association) does,” Somers said.

Los Altos Hills City Manager Carl Cahill echoed Somers’ sentiments, noting that the grading methodology fails to take into account specific situations for each graded city.

For example, he said, Los Altos Hills consists mainly of privately owned property and doesn’t have commercial establishments or higher-density housing that would potentially be subject to smoking restrictions.

“We could adopt symbolic legislation, but it would be meaningless,” Cahill said.

Foothill College and the town, he noted, are subject to state guidelines restricting smoking and the town prohibits smoking in public buildings and has an ordinance banning smoking in hazardous fire areas (4-2.106).

American Lung Association Policy Manager Lindsey Freitas, however, said individuals’ rights come second to the overall health of the public, whether on public or private land.

“We typically say there is no right to smoke,” Freitas told the Town Crier. “As much as people say you should be able to smoke in your house, the other side of that is, what about the other people around you?”

Looking ahead, Cahill said he hopes to contact American Lung Association representatives to establish a better dialogue between the parties for future reports.

“(The report) is beneficial and makes sense overall,” he said, “but the (grading) model just doesn’t work for us.”

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