Eastern Sierra health officials regard a recent tobacco survey as both flawed in areas and, in others, as indicative of changes for which to strive.
Both Inyo and Mono counties and the City of Bishop received overall F grades in all three categories of the American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control 2013 – California Local Grades report. Mammoth Lakes fared better with an overall C, having failed in only one of the categories.
Karen Kong of Inyo County Health and Human Services/Prevention said she was not surprised by the ALA report results. “For small rural counties, the rating system is flawed.” The report is unfair, she said, because “it doesn’t take into account our geographical size and the fact that there’s not as much diversity of opportunities in these areas … We will never get an A” with ALA’s current rating system.”
Mono County Health Department Health Promotion Division Manager Nancy Mahannah said she understands the report’s grading system, but “I also understand we have good ordinances in Mammoth Lakes.”
The ALA report tobacco control policy categories are Smoke-free Outdoor Air, Smoke-free Housing and Reducing Sales of Tobacco Products. Subcategories within those three, are given 0-4 points based on the strength of local ordinances. For example, in Entryways subcategory, it’s 4 points for no smoking within 20-plus feet of entries; 3 points if prohibited within 15-19 feet; 2 points if less than 15 feet or within unspecified distances and 0 if there are no smoking restrictions.
An example of the report’s flaws, Kong said, is where “they put one score in the wrong category and missed one” altogether. In the Smoke-free Outdoor Air category, the score for Millpond Music Festival, Mule Days and the Tri-County Fair was placed in Recreation Areas not in the Public Events subcategory. Also, since these events have smoking-designated areas, the score should have been 3, not the 2 given.
According to the ALA report, scientific studies reveal the health detriments of outdoor secondhand smoke exposure. Cities and counties “have the explicit authority” to restrict smoking in various outdoor areas – and they are doing so.
The report’s Smoke-free Outdoor subcategories are dining, entryways, public events and recreation and service areas with bonus points given for worksite and commercial area sidewalks regulation.
Mammoth got 21 points, earning an A. Mammoth
ordinances require 20-plus smoke-free feet from all entryways and 100 percent smoke-free outdoor dining areas, Mahannah said. Events are smoke-free as well, she added, “but in reality (if enforced), people go and smoke in the forest, so we have designated areas.”
Bishop received only the aforementioned erroneously-placed 2 points.
The Smoke-free Housing grade policy areas are nonsmoking units, nonsmoking common areas and disclosure, i.e. landlords and condo sellers must tell potential tenants and buyers about smoking restrictions.
According to ALA, “one area where people remain unprotected is in multi-unit housing … a serous health threat” with smoke drifting in from other units and outdoor and common areas. Landlords are authorized to prohibit smoking in their units and city and county policy can exceed state law.
Mahannah said Mammoth’s 5,000-plus condo and apartment units have no-smoking policies for common areas. “Over 85 percent of them had a no-smoking policy for units” and now, her focus is on working with Mammoth Lakes Affordable Housing to establish smoke-free housing.
According to ALA, many California cities and counties are passing ordinances requiring tobacco-selling retailers to be licensed to keep track of them, enforce compliance and penalize for selling to minors. On behalf of Inyo County, Kong said, “We haven’t.” In general, this kind of policy is “accomplished by dedicated volunteer groups who work independently.” Counties don’t do it unless they are pressured from the outside or “a champion” within the ranks is personally motivated to initiate it. On the other hand, she added, some private businesses like Dwayne’s Friendly Pharmacy have elected not to sell tobacco at all.
Mahannah said Mono County “had a 50 percent sales-to-minors rate” in the 30 tobacco-purveying businesses surveyed. “Basically, it needs to stop. According to federal law, anyone under 27 (years of age) is supposed to be ID’d. We conducted a training for tobacco retailers in Inyo and Mono counties through the California State Board of Equalization in October.”
Kong said, “The last time Inyo County did an undercover sting operation, 29 percent of the total 25 stores that sell cigarettes, sold to underage decoys who were either 15 or 16 years old” and looked it.
Progress is being made, said county officials. Inyo County’s Tobacco Control Program focuses on tobacco use cessation; public education about dangers of tobacco use; stopping kids from starting; and working with interested groups to have businesses and events enact policies. “In the last year, working with business owners, Inyo County now has 13 restaurants that prohibit smoking in outdoor eating areas,” Kong said.
In Mono County, Mahannah said, “our mission, though the department of Health Services, is to keep working to make smoking less desirable and less acceptable by changing cultural norms.”
For more information, call Kong at (760) 872-0900 or Mahannah at (760) 924-1830.