Moe Taherian, manager of Santa Monica Tobacco, stocks cigarettes at his store on Fourth Street on Wednesday. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)
Moe Taherian, manager of Santa Monica Tobacco, stocks cigarettes at his store on Fourth Street on Wednesday. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITY HALL — The American Lung Association gave Santa Monica its top score in a report released Wednesday evaluating how well California cities protect their residents from secondhand smoke.

Santa Monica received 12 out of 12 points for its efforts to curb smoking in the city and protect residents from exposure to secondhand smoke, a carcinogen known to cause disease even in nonsmokers.

It’s one of 17 cities and counties to earn an ‘A’ grade for tobacco control out of the 482 incorporated cities and towns and 58 counties in the state.

Roughly two-thirds of those continue to fail to meet the association’s standards, according to the report.

Santa Monica managed to raise its grade from the ‘B’ it received in 2011 primarily because of recent changes in law that restrict smoking in multifamily housing like apartments and condominiums, said Jennifer Paul, the regional director of programs and advocacy with the American Lung Association in California.

“Not only did they declare non-smoking units, they also put in a disclosure clause,” Paul said.

Santa Monica had already banned smoking in some public places and shared common areas, but it upped its game to include multifamily housing in 2012 by passing an ordinance banning smoking in apartments and condominiums for tenants that moved in after Nov. 22, 2012.

The idea was to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke, which can pass from one apartment to another through shared ventilation and even electrical outlets.

It took months to get past the City Council, which voted it down in the summer only to accept a modified proposal that fall after clearing up concerns about medical marijuana smokers and internal disagreements over the “designate and disclose” requirement.

Per the rules, existing tenants can designate their units either smoking or non-smoking. If they choose to make their units smoking, they may light up indoors until they move out, at which point the unit defaults to non-smoking.

When new tenants move in, however, landlords must provide them with information about the smoking habits of their neighbors.

The “designate and disclose” piece of the law gave several on the City Council heartburn, including Councilmember Gleam Davis, who ultimately made the motion that passed in early October.

She was pleased with the compromise, however, because it set in motion an incremental policy that ultimately would meet all of Santa Monica’s goals to protect both civil liberties and public health.

“Over time of its own accord this will move us closer to that idea of smoke-free housing,” Davis said. “One of the things that I’m most proud of is that we didn’t do it in a vacuum.”

That’s because the law also includes provisions requiring a document be delivered to tenants containing information about smoking cessation programs and about the law itself.

Grades aren’t everything, however.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who likened the designate and disclose rule to painting a “big, yellow ‘S’ on a smoker’s door,” felt that the policy made tenants a target for harassment.

The American Lung Association’s accolades meant little next to that, he said.

“I can’t get excited about trading public relations puffery for the housing stability of long-term Santa Monica renters,” McKeown said.

The ordinance does not allow landlords to evict tenants for smoking unless the lease specifically prohibits it.

Although Santa Monica is at the top of the pack for its efforts at tobacco control, the state of California received mixed grades from the report.

The state got strong marks for protecting the public from secondhand smoke and also encouraging smokers to consider quitting, but it got an ‘F’ for tobacco prevention and control spending.

It budgeted 15.5 percent of the money that the Centers for Disease Control recommend on tobacco control programs for 2013 — $62,095,000 rather than $441,900,000, according to the report — and does a poor job of encouraging people to quit smoking through its health programs for state workers and the poor.

One group, at least, didn’t shy away from spending on smoking in California.

According to Follow the Money, a nonprofit based in Montana, the tobacco industry pitched in $46.3 million to oppose Proposition 29, a California measure that would have added a $1 tax on each pack of cigarettes to support cancer research.

That measure narrowly failed to get sufficient support from voters, leaving the state to plug away at smoking education and cancer research on its own.

Slowly but surely, however, the number of smokers in the state is on the decline.

According to the California Department of Public Health, the state’s adult smoking population hit an all-time-low of 11.9 percent in 2011, down from 13.1 percent in 2009.

Moe Taherian, the manager of Santa Monica Tobacco, has felt the impact, which he attributes less to Santa Monica-specific policies and more toward an overall trend of people kicking the habit.

He opened a coffee shop called MoGo coffee inside his store on Fourth Street to supplement his income.

“People are just smoking less these days,” Taherian said. “But, smokers will continue to smoke, no matter what.”

Local governments, however, are free to empower themselves to protect their residents, and Davis believes that Santa Monica stretched itself to create a template that many other cities can follow to do just that.

“We didn’t do it to get the American Lung Association’s approval, but it’s always good that someone recognized our struggle,” she said.

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