Amid a failing state, Richmond earns an A in tobacco control and prevention
on January 13, 2010
While California is typically considered the valedictorian of clean air regulation, the American Lung Association in California (ALAC) has again flunked the Golden State for weak tobacco policies.
Perhaps even more surprising than the state’s low marks, though, were one city’s high ones — Richmond was one of four cities in California to earn an overall A on the ALAC’s annual tobacco policy report card. And of the A-achievers — Albany, Calabasas and Glendale — Richmond showed the greatest improvement.
ALAC leaders joined local politicians and medical professionals to release the state’s report card at Richmond’s City Hall Tuesday, in an effort to highlight the city’s success and encourage other cities to follow in its lead.
The ALAC report coincided with the organization’s national report that reviews county and city policies in all 50 states and issues grades in four categories: tobacco control and prevention spending, public smoking regulations, cigarette taxes and aid to those who want to quit smoking. While California earned an A for its secondhand smoke regulations, it was lagging in the other criteria. The ALAC gave the state an F for its spending on tobacco control, and D’s for its cessation coverage and cigarette tax (California taxes $0.87 per pack, in contrast with the national average of $1.34.)
Jane Warner, ALAC president and CEO, urged other cities to make tobacco control a top priority.
“Just a year ago, Richmond had three F’s and a D. And now you see the result of just one year of commitment,” Warner said.
After receiving the previous year’s failing report card, Councilmember Tom Butt said the city council drafted and passed several ordinances to improve its grades. In particular, the council voted to ban smoking in all multi-unit housing — which the ALAC considers the strongest smoke-free housing ordinance in the nation. It will take effect in January 2011. The city also passed comprehensive outdoor smoking bans and prohibited tobacco sales in pharmacies.
Butt said the legislation is mostly designed to protect the public from secondhand smoke, but “if in the process we discourage people from smoking along the way, then that’s great.”
He said overall the council felt very little political heat for passing strict anti-smoke laws, though some residents felt the council should be focusing on other issues.
“There’s no law I could pass that’s going to cut Richmond’s homicide rate [immediately], but if I read a study that says I might save a dozen lives by voting yes on an ordinance, that’s amazing,” Butt said of the multi-unit housing regulation.
The ALAC also used the forum as an opportunity to announce the organization’s support for the California Cancer Research Act, a November 2010 ballot initiative to raise cigarette taxes by $1 in California, as well as to fund cancer research and tobacco control programs.
Tobacco-related illnesses kill nearly 40,000 Californians every year and cost the state $18 billion annually, according the ALAC.
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Government power the real health hazard
The bandwagon of local smoking bans now steamrolling across the nation has nothing to do with protecting people from the supposed threat of “second-hand” smoke.
Indeed, the bans are symptoms of a far more grievous threat, a cancer that has been spreading for decades and has now metastasized throughout the body politic, spreading even to the tiniest organs of local government. This cancer is the only real hazard involved – the cancer of unlimited government power.
The issue is not whether second-hand smoke is a real danger or is in fact just a phantom menace, as a study published recently in the British Medical Journal indicates. The issue is: If it were harmful, what would be the proper reaction? Should anti-tobacco activists satisfy themselves with educating people about the potential danger and allowing them to make their own decisions, or should they seize the power of government and force people to make the “right” decision?
Supporters of local tobacco bans have made their choice. Rather than trying to protect people from an unwanted intrusion on their health, the bans are the unwanted intrusion.
Loudly billed as measures that only affect “public places,” they have actually targeted private places: restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops and offices – places whose owners are free to set anti-smoking rules or whose customers are free to go elsewhere if they don’t like the smoke. Some local bans even harass smokers in places where their effect on others is negligible, such as outdoor public parks.
The decision to smoke, or to avoid “second-hand” smoke, is a question to be answered by each individual based on his own values and his own assessment of the risks. This is the same kind of decision free people make regarding every aspect of their lives: how much to spend or invest, whom to befriend or sleep with, whether to go to college or get a job, whether to get married or divorced, and so on.
All of these decisions involve risks; some have demonstrably harmful consequences; most are controversial and invite disapproval from the neighbours. But the individual must be free to make these decisions. He must be free because his life belongs to him, not to his neighbours, and only his own judgment can guide him through it.
Yet when it comes to smoking, this freedom is under attack. Smokers are a numerical minority, practising a habit considered annoying and unpleasant to the majority. So the majority has simply commandeered the power of government and used it to dictate their behaviour.
That is why these bans are far more threatening than the prospect of inhaling a few stray whiffs of tobacco while waiting for a table at your favourite restaurant. The anti-tobacco crusaders point in exaggerated alarm at those wisps of smoke while they unleash the unlimited intrusion of government into our lives. We do not elect officials to control and manipulate our behaviour.
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