CITYWIDE — The prevalence of smoking among adults decreased 12.8 percent in California between 2005 and 2008 to 11.6 percent of the population, with tobacco use less common in Los Angeles County than statewide, according to a report released this week by the California Department of Public Health.

In L.A. County, the 2008 smoking rate was 10.5 percent. San Diego and Alameda counties also had rates below the state average, while San Francisco and Sacramento counties had rates above the average, at 13.5 and 14 percent, respectively.

In general, people living in rural, low-density counties were more likely to smoke than those living in denser urban areas.

In a section of the report that was of particular note to locals, the survey showed that public support is increasing for bans on smoking in public places — an area where Santa Monica’s City Council has been a leader, banning smoking in a long list of venues, including beaches, restaurant and bar patios, bus stops and apartment common areas and apartment balconies.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that smoking is down in California, because if you look across the state, local government and the state government are taking a hard line on smoking and it’s beginning to pay off,” said Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom.

Bloom said regulating secondhand smoke could continue to be a topic for the City Council.

“I think we’ve covered most of the ground,” he said. “I think the next frontier is how do we provide protection for people who are living in close quarters with people who smoke and have to suffer the secondhand smoke effect. That’s a tough issue and I think that the council over the next couple of years will continue to struggle with that issue.”

Statewide, support for restaurant patio smoking bans increased to 44.3 percent in 2008, from 36.8 percent in 2002, according to the report. Support for banning smoking outside entrances to buildings rose from 44.5 percent in 2002 to 54.2 percent in 2008.

At the same time, Californians are increasingly complaining about exposure to smoke while in public.

“While California workers have enjoyed a decline in secondhand smoke exposure in the workplace and at home, there was increasing incidence of exposure from venues other than work or home,” the report stated.

Esther Schiller, executive director of the non-profit Smokefree Air For Everyone, called the figures showing a lower overall smoking rate “very exciting” and said higher levels of support for public space smoking bans could prompt more jurisdictions to adopt smoking rules similar to the ones already in effect in Santa Monica.

A section of the report that said “90 percent of young adults would like to see the current smoke-free bar law kept as is, more strictly enforced, or extended to patios and outdoor sitting areas” was particularly encouraging, she said.

The city of Los Angeles, for example, has adopted a smoking ban for restaurant patios but opted not to extend the rule, which takes effect next year, to bar and night club patios, she said.

“Maybe this kind of report will help them look at the issue again,” she said.

She said she was concerned about two points noted in the report: a slight increase in the rate of cigar smoking among males, and big increases among both men and women in the rate of hookah smoking.

“Hookah use is increasing faster than any other tobacco product, especially in young adults,” the report stated.

The 2008 survey was the eighth time since 1990 that California has conducted a statewide report on tobacco usage. More than 22,000 households were contacted to gather the information, with more than 10,300 extended interviews conducted, according to the authors of the report.

Other key findings included:

• Californians buy about half as many packs of cigarettes per person (3.37 per month) compared with the rest of the country, where the per capita average is 6.42 packs per month.

• The smoking rate among the state’s college graduates was 5.9 percent. Among men who did not graduate from high school it was 20.9 percent. Female college graduates were more likely to smoke (10.4 percent) than their counterparts who did not graduate from high school (8.7 percent).

• Smoking among African Americans has declined sharply, from 41 percent of adults in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2008.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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