PALISADES PARK — Residents of Santa Monica and cities across Los Angeles County will soon be able to take advantage of $32.1 million worth of programs aimed at reducing smoking and preventing obesity, thanks to a federal grant announced Wednesday.
L.A. County will receive $16.2 million for tobacco prevention and $15.9 million for obesity prevention under a federal stimulus grant that will target minority populations that are most at risk of chronic diseases due to smoking and being overweight.
Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius appeared at a press conference held in Palisades Park on Wednesday afternoon to announce L.A. County’s award, which is the largest of 44 grants given out nationwide under the Communities Putting Prevention to Work program.
Sebelius said L.A. County was one of only seven entities that received funding to target prevention of both smoking and obesity.
Speaking from a podium on the grass with the Santa Monica Pier visible in the background, Sebelius applauded the steps Santa Monica officials have taken to reduce secondhand smoke in public places.
“That pier has just become smoke free. It’s a great example of some leadership commitment,” she said, referring to the City Council’s recent vote to ban smoking on the landmark. (Smoking had previously been restricted to a handful of smoking zones on the pier).
Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver and Councilmen Richard Bloom and Bob Holbrook, as well as officials from L.A. County including Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, also attended the event.
L.A. County’s smoking rate of 14.3 percent is substantially below the national rate of about 20 percent, officials said, though smoking in the county is much more prevalent among some demographic groups.
More than 32 percent of African American males and nearly 45 percent of Korean males in the county smoke, according to the county’s public health department. A disproportionate number of Latino, Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese males and African American females in the county also are smokers.
“The stakes are too great for us to not step up our efforts. Over the next 18 months, the Department of Public Health will implement the most aggressive, targeted anti-tobacco campaign in L.A. County history,” said Jonathan Fielding, the county’s health officer.
The grant funding will allow the county’s public health department to give out 71 additional grants to social service agencies including homeless shelters and transitional housing facilities to support tobacco cessation efforts. The county will also be working with 75 high schools, including continuation and alternative schools, where officials said 32.4 percent of students smoke. The county will also be funding a media campaign geared toward reducing smoking. All efforts will be geared toward groups where smoking is most prevalent.
Officials billed the grants as a program that would reduce government spending in the long run by cutting down on healthcare costs associated with chronic diseases that are tied to tobacco use and obesity.
L.A. County spends $4.3 billion per year treating tobacco related diseases, Yaroslavsky said. The tab for the federal government, Sebelius said, is $100 billion.
Yaroslavsky said the grant program will make tangible improvements to the county’s efforts to reduce smoking. Formerly a two pack per day smoker, he said he knows programs aimed at helping people quit can make a difference.
“I personally know the challenges that come with smoking and quitting smoking,” he said. “It’s not that easy to do. It takes a whole community to help one person quit smoking. It takes a whole community to keep kids from ever getting hooked on smoking, and that’s why we’re here.”