Sonoma County cities improve scores on American Lung Association’s tobacco report card

Santa Rosa, Cotati and Sonoma took significant steps in 2015 to combat tobacco use among their residents, earning high marks in individual categories in the American Lung Association’s latest survey of communities statewide.

Santa Rosa and Cotati scored perfect A’s in the category of smoke-free housing, a year after both cities earned F’s on the same scale.

Likewise, Sonoma went from a failing grade to scoring the highest mark in the category of reducing tobacco sales.

“Sonoma County is making great strides in really improving the health of the community as it relates to secondhand smoke, and tobacco use overall,” said Corie Goldman, an advocacy director for the Lung Association.

The Lung Association has been issuing its State of Tobacco Control in California since 2008 as a way of pressuring localities into adopting more stringent tobacco regulations and to reduce smoking and smoking-related deaths.

Santa Rosa leaders last summer enacted a sweeping ban on smoking in attached homes, as well as in city recreational properties and parks and outdoor service areas such as lines for ATMs, food vendors, movie theaters and bus stops.

Santa Rosa Mayor John Sawyer said Wednesday he was “pleased” with the city’s performance on the survey, saying it reflects ongoing efforts to make smoking more restrictive.

“In time, we will be able to say we have eradicated smoking from our culture,” he said.

Sawyer, the former owner of a Santa Rosa newsstand that sold tobacco products, said he began recognizing long ago that smoking was falling out of favor. But as a former smoker himself, he expressed empathy for those who are trying to kick the habit.

“I know how strong addiction is,” he said. “I feel for people who have that monkey on their back.”

Cotati also enacted more stringent tobacco-use policies last year, pushing the city’s overall grade to a solid B, up from an F in previous years.

Sonoma earned a high individual score from the Lung Association after city leaders last year approved a measure that prohibits new businesses from selling cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and other products, as well as implementing a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes, cheap cigars and most flavored tobacco in town.

However, the city backed away from enacting more stringent restrictions in housing units, earning it a grade of D in that category and bringing down the city’s overall score to a C.

Sonoma’s current regulations banning smoking in restaurants, workplaces and city-owned facilities were approved more than two decades ago at the ballot box. City officials were unsure whether those restrictions could be extended to apartment complexes, townhomes and outdoor spaces without a public vote.

The city received the highest number of bonus points of any Sonoma County community in the 2015 survey in the category of emerging issues, for its regulation of e-cigarettes.

The other three categories used to judge counties and municipalities were smoke-free outdoor air, smoke-free multi-unit housing and reduced tobacco sales.

Smoking is blamed for 40,000 deaths in California annually, and each year, an estimated 16,000 children pick up the habit, according to Goldman. The state’s overall grade of B remained unchanged from 2014. But as in years past, the state was faulted for its comparatively low cigarette tax and tobacco-prevention spending and its poor coverage of smoking cessation and treatment services.

The number of California communities receiving A grades has doubled in the past five years, Goldman said.

Five Sonoma County cities and the unincorporated areas received overall B grades in the 2015 survey. That includes Healdsburg, which sought to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21 but then backed down in the face of threatened litigation by a tobacco retailers’ association.

Rohnert Park was awarded a C grade and Windsor a D.

Windsor City Manager Linda Kelly said the score may reflect the fact the city has not yet taken action on enacting an ordinance implementing licenses for tobacco retailers.

“We are taking a measured approach to this as we are engaging with our local business retailers and gathering their thoughts first before introducing an ordinance,” she said.

She noted the city adopted an ordinance in 2014 expanding the definition of smoking to include e-cigarettes, which allowed the city to ban them from all parks, including during Town Green concerts in response to complaints from some patrons.

Cloverdale, which was slapped with an F, has consistently received failing grades for not updating its tobacco control policies since the mid-1990s.

Mayor Mary Ann Brigham did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or On Twitter?@deadlinederek.

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