No action sparked by smoking report

City Council members are less than impressed by a statewide American Lung Association effort to encourage La Cañada Flintridge and other cities to adopt stricter local tobacco-control ordinances.

The organization's "State of Tobacco Control 2010" report graded California cities based on how far local ordinances go beyond state law to curb tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure.

Though earning big points for its tobacco-retailer licensing program to prevent sales to minors, La Cañada received a "D" grade overall.

The low mark took into account a lack of municipal codes requiring property owners to designate smoke-free apartments or condos and factored in the city's unwillingness to impose smoking restrictions in public places and outdoor dining areas that would exceed minimum state requirements.

But officials question the wisdom of enacting such rules here and were critical of the report for basing grades not on the prominence of tobacco use, but on the number of laws on the books.

"In a way, I think it's kind of presumptuous of the A.L.A to give people grades without looking at the actual conditions in the community. To me, that's more important than whether a law is on the books, and I think [that focus] is short-sighted and unfair to the community," said Councilman Stephen Del Guercio.

"We don't have many multifamily units or really crowded nightclubs or public spaces. Maybe our population is not so dense, maybe there are not as many smokers, but my perception is that these types of issues are not so prevalent [in the city] to warrant adopting measures additional to what the state has required. Should perception change, I would consider it," Del Guercio continued.

Paul Knepprath, vice president for advocacy and health initiatives for the American Lung Association in California, said the report was intended to reward strong anti-smoking initiatives, not speak directly to quality of life in any given place.

"The challenge is for cities to go beyond state law and increase protection against second-hand smoke. In one grading category, the city does get an "A," which the city should be congratulated for, and there are opportunities for the city to improve its grade," Knepprath said.

More than two-thirds of California cities received a failing grade from the A.L.A. for local tobacco-control efforts.

Glendale, where aggressive outdoor and multiunit smoking restrictions recently went into effect, was one of only nine cities to receive an "A" grade.

An early adopter of similar local ordinances, Burbank earned a "B."

Despite scoring high for restrictions on outdoor smoking, Pasadena also received a "B" for having few housing-related restrictions.

On the heels of a previous American Lung Association report and with the encouragement of the city's Youth Council, La Cañada Flintridge City Council members last year adopted a tobacco retailer licensing ordinance that allows the city to patrol and shut down retailers who sell tobacco to underage buyers.

"I'm pleased that they recognized our retail-sales restrictions," said Mayor Donald Voss, but "in terms of the number of regulations, that's a contest this city didn't enter, so if we don't come out first, that's OK."

This year's A.L.A report was also critical of state officials, urging Sacramento to increase the tobacco tax — at 87 cents per pack, California's is only the 33rd highest in the nation — and invest more heavily in tobacco-use prevention and cessation efforts.

The state did, however, receive top marks for maintaining smoke-free air.

The association is also a co-sponsor of the California Cancer Research Act, an upcoming statewide ballot initiative that would raise the state tobacco tax by $1 per pack in order to triple state prevention-and-cessation-program funding and fund cancer research.

Councilman Dave Spence, who owns apartment housing in Glendale and recently worked to conform to new tenant smoking restrictions there, said similar rules wouldn't be a good fit for La Cañada Flintridge.

"We are not an aggressive, in-your-face city government. We believe in the intellectual capacity of our residents to make proper decisions regarding use of tobacco. We don't need more laws and regulations to tell people what to do," Spence said.

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