Mother Lode gets low grades on tobacco use

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

Efforts to snuff out tobacco use in the cities of Sonora and Angels Camp and Calaveras County garnered an "F" grade in a "report card" released today by the American Lung Association.

Unincorporated Tuolumne County fared only slightly better, managing a "D" in the organization's annual "State of Tobacco Control - California Local Grades" report.

The local jurisdictions have plenty of company statewide. The report card gives 63 percent of municipalities statewide a failing mark. Just 3 percent got an "A" and 5 percent a "B" using methodology that takes into account policies on smoke-free outdoor air and housing and reduction of tobacco sales.

"Each year, more than 34,000 children start smoking in California. That is why it is so important for our communities to take action to ensure that tobacco is kept out of the hands of children," said Marsha Ramos, chairwoman of the governing board for the American Lung Association in California and a former Burbank mayor. "While it is encouraging that over 100 municipalities in our state have taken action to protect their youth from tobacco, more needs to be done."

The three failing jurisdictions got zeroes across the board, while unincorporated Tuolumne County managed a half-dozen points for restricting smoking in outdoor dining areas to designated areas, restricting smoking at certain public events and making indoor common areas in multi-unit housing non-smoking.

Tuolumne County Public Health Officer Dr. Todd Stolp said the report card paints an incomplete picture from "a great distance."

"Nobody (from ALA) contacted me," Stolp said. "It's clear that they are not aware of the work that's being done with the California Transformation Grant."

Stolp said Tuolumne and Calaveras are among 12 counties statewide to receive the funding through the Affordable Care Act via the Public Health Institute and the California Department of Public Health.

The grant provides the Tuolumne County$237,000 a year for five years and this is the second year, he said. Its targets include decreasing second-hand smoke exposure in multi-unit housing, working with merchants to alter their marketing of tobacco products and setting up "health advisory committees" in schools such as the one recently launched at Sonora High School.

"Tuolumne County has a great deal to do to improve our performance in tobacco consumption," Stolp said. "The foundation is being laid for that improvement."

In October, a grant-funded survey produced some of the most detailed and reliable information the county has ever had on tobacco users, he said.

It established that 26 percent of county residents are smokers, with a 5 percent margin of error, a much more precise figure than earlier regional data provided, according to Stolp. That leaves the county with one of the highest rates of tobacco use in the state.

The survey also found that minorities, lower-income residents, those who live in multi-unit housing and people younger than 50, especially children, are most likely to live with a smoker. Half of households included at least one tobacco user and Sonora had the highest rate of tobacco use of any community in the county. Broad support existed among those surveyed for more restrictions on smoking in apartment complexes but slightly more mobile home park residents preferred no restrictions.

The data will be used to determine what sort of anti-tobacco campaigns will be suggested and submitted to the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, Stolp said.

At stake is cutting into the top behavioral cause of death both in Tuolumne County residents and Americans overall. Fatal heart disease, various cancers, strokes and chronic lung disease are all major killers attributable to smoking, Stolp said.

The Union Democrat
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