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June 25, 2010 > Tobacco report card

Tobacco report card

Submitted By Molly Carbajal

The Tobacco Free Coalition of Santa Clara County and Community Advocate Teens of Today, with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, have the final results of the 2009-10 Community's Health on Tobacco Report Card, released on June 21, 2010. Now in its fourth release, the Report Card is a tool to both monitor SCC cities' tobacco control policies and encourage enforcement efforts. Despite facing another year of budget reductions and limited resources, the County's cities have made great strides in prioritizing tobacco-prevention efforts.

"Smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States," said Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager. "We must do what we can to make it easier for residents to quit while preventing others, particularly teenagers, from starting to smoke in the first place."

This year three cities earned top marks. Mountain View, Saratoga and Milpitas have all received "A" grades. Last year no cities achieved an "A".

"This is a great example of city leaders and our community coming together to overcome the tough economic reality and find a way to leverage existing funds for the health of the public," says Santa Clara County Board of Supervisor member Liz Kniss whose district includes Saratoga, Mountain View and Palo Alto.

Santa Clara County has focused its grading criteria on tobacco advertising and displays, as well as preventing youth access to tobacco. Points are awarded for a high compliance rate with window advertising regulations, enforcement of underage tobacco sales laws and creation of policies requiring a tobacco retailer license. Extra credit is given to recognize cities' community-based tobacco-control work, an important part of promoting lasting solutions.

"We don't want young people to begin smoking. By working with the cities we can strengthen tobacco policies, support enforcement of current laws and prevent access to tobacco," commented Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County Health Officer. "These actions impact and discourage the use of tobacco. We know that about 10 percent of our young people currently use tobacco. Some obtain tobacco illegally from tobacco retailers. Stopping tobacco use is important in protecting our community's health."

Currently, no Santa Clara County jurisdiction has adopted a tobacco retail licensing policy. In San Jose, Councilmember Nora Campos proposed a Tobacco Retailer Permit Program and Mayor Chuck Reed included it in his June budget message. Supervisor Yeager has also made tobacco retail licensing a priority for Santa Clara County.

"Last year enforcement of illegal tobacco sales to minors was only conducted in 4 of our 13 targeted cities," explains Dr. Roger Kennedy, chair of the Tobacco Free Coalition. "This year, enforcement was conducted in 12 cities. The Tobacco Report Card has proven to be an effective tool in helping cities to take action."

The City of Saratoga adopted a conditional use permit policy in response to the Tobacco Report Card, restricting the location of tobacco outlets in proximity to schools and parks and other tobacco outlets.

"Saratoga has proven its commitment to promoting the health and wellness of our youth by providing recreational programs, exceptional sports facilities and easy access to parks and trails," says Saratoga Councilman Chuck Page. "We really wanted to do more to prevent youth addiction to tobacco so we placed restrictions on tobacco sales that minimize underage access to tobacco and we're working to further our commitment by prohibiting smoking in parks and other public areas."

Mountain View, a city with consistently high Tobacco Report Card marks primarily due to strong tobacco-related policies and a best-practice tobacco retailer responsibility program, conducted decoy operations this year with nearly every tobacco retailer in the city.

"We were happy to see a low number of our retailers selling tobacco to minors," commented Chief Scott Vermeer, Mountain View Police. "Only 3 out of 59 tobacco retailers sold tobacco to a minor. We credit this to ongoing compliance checks and education conducted by police volunteers with all of the tobacco retailers in our city."

Youth coalition members who have participated in decoy operations with other City Police Departments have seen first-hand how likely stores are to sell tobacco to minors when they are not checked regularly.

"I've purchased tobacco on numerous occasions, including one instance where three out of three CVS Pharmacies sold to me and another youth volunteer," comments Vy Hoang, high school senior at San Jose High Academy and Community Advocate Teens of Today Co-Chair. "Retailers should follow the law and if they don't, there should be severe consequences like hefty fines or a suspended license."

Recently, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department was selected as one of 44 jurisdictions nationwide to receive a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these grants are used to mobilize local resources at the community level. With a strong emphasis on policy and environmental change, the Public Health Departments efforts are focused on decreasing the overall prevalence of smoking in the community, as well as conducting efforts to prevent teens from starting to smoke.

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