SLO County could do better in curbing tobacco use, report says

San Luis Obispo County continues to be mediocre in its efforts to curb tobacco use, according to a report issued by the American Lung Association.

However, local health officials say they believe efforts to curb tobacco use are better than the report suggests.

The American Lung Association in California released its "State of Tobacco Control 2014" report card on Jan. 22, grading how well California cities and counties protect citizens from contact with tobacco and discourage use.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke are the most important things a person can do to lower the chance of lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.

The American Lung Association’s annual report is based on a review of county and municipal codes in three areas: smoke-free outdoor air, smoke-free multi-unit housing and reducing tobacco sales.

San Luis Obispo led efforts among cities in San Luis Obispo County to reduce tobacco use, according to the report.

For the second year in a row, San Luis Obispo was given a grade of B, the highest in the county. The remaining cities also received the exact same grades as the year prior.

Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and the unincorporated areas of the county were given grades of C. Morro Bay received a D grade, while Atascadero, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach all received failing grades.

A failing grade is not uncommon. Nearly two-thirds of all municipalities were given an overall failing grade, according to the report.

“I’m not a huge fan of these grades,” said Kathleen Karle, division manager with the county Health Department. “I get what they are trying to do, and I believe policy work is important. But they are trying to shame communities into adopting policies.”

The report card is a way of showing what elected officials are doing, said Stacy Song, policy coordinator of the American Lung Association.

“We grade because it gives the opportunity for the public to know what local policies are in place and to recognize that leadership while encouraging it in other places where it is needed,” Song said.

For example, no local cities prohibit the sale of tobacco near schools and parks — a step other municipalities have taken.

Few local cities scored well in the smoke-free multi-unit housing category.

However, the county has done extensive outreach to apartment complexes to see what policies were in place.

“We found that an overwhelming majority already have smoke-free policies in place,” Karle said.

Most cities got poor grades in that category by the American Lung Association because the cities had not passed specific ordinances banning smoking from multi-unit housing.

“Why pass an ordinance for something that is already being done?” Karle said.

Most cities have banned smoking in parks and public recreation areas, but Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo lead the pack in passing rules prohibiting smoking in all public areas.

Paso Robles is one city that does need to improve its efforts, she said.

“We believe the city is ripe to have some policies put in place,” Karle said. “It is a boutique destination within the wine industry, and we believe an ordinance banning smoking on streets and dining areas has the possibility of passing.”