Tobacco control report gives mediocre to failing grades to county

More policies to curb smoking would improve grades, American Lung Association states

An unidentified man smokes a cigarette about 10 feet from the front door of an Arcata Plaza bar on Wednesday. The American Lung Association’s 2019 tobacco control report was released Wednesday and many areas of the county were issued failing grades. Arcata was given a C overall. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

There are 39 communities in the state that have an overall A score from the American Lung Association in its annual tobacco control report, which was released Wednesday. That’s a marked increase from the 18 found in the 2013 survey.

But it’s a drop in the bucket among the 482 cities and 58 counties in the state that are examined. And, notably, no city within Humboldt County made the grade.

“It’s not great,” said Stephanie Frazier, an advocacy manager with the American Lung Association. “But (Humboldt County is) not alone in that.”

The report grades cities and counties on policies implemented at any level of government to curb tobacco use. Areas graded in the report included whether there was smoke-free outdoor air, availability of smoke-free housing and efforts to reduce the sale of tobacco.

One area the report looks at is access to flavored electronic cigarettes that are popular among youth.

“Once again, California earned some of the best grades in the country, however, the fact remains that more than 9,000 children begin smoking each year in the state while more than 40,000 residents die from smoking-related causes,” said Vanessa Marvin, the American Lung Association vice president of public policy and advocacy, in a news release.

“We’ve seen just a huge increase in youth use of tobacco with e-cigarettes,” Frazier added. “We thought we had gotten rid of the issue. E-cigarettes are attracting kids in ways we never saw coming.”

In December, the U.S. Surgeon General declared e-cigarette use among youth to be an epidemic.

Humboldt County youth fall in line with national trends, and according to the 2017-18 Healthy Kids Survey, 33 percent of 11th-graders have tried e-cigarettes, a number that is even higher among students attending nontraditional high schools, where the number is 58 percent. The number of students who reported regular use is a bit lower, with 14 percent of 11th-graders and 29 percent of nontraditional students using e-cigarettes.

Humboldt County’s overall scores range between a C on the high end and Fs on the low end, with larger cities faring better than small cities and unincorporated areas of the county. Arcata, Eureka, Fortuna and Blue Lake all earned overall C grades, but where each area excelled and earned A grades was in policies for smoke-free outdoor air.

There were no marked improvements in Humboldt County from the 2018 results of the report, but several areas have improved in recent years, according to Frazier.

“Fortuna went from an F to a C in the time between the 2016-2017 report, and Arcata went from a D to a C from 2013-2014,” she said. “In 2010, Blue Lake improved from a D to a C and Eureka went from an F to a C.”

She added that it is not unheard of to turn around scores in the span of a year.

“Half Moon Bay had an F last year, and they have an A this year,” she said. “… It’s doable. It is just on the local elected officials to make those changes to affect the citizens.”

Humboldt County’s Department of Health and Human Services stated it did not read the report Wednesday and could not comment on it.

“The Department of Health and Human Services is supportive of efforts to reduce smoking rates and exposure to secondhand smoke for the residents of Humboldt County,” DHHS spokesperson Meriah Miracle said in an email to the Times-Standard. “Less exposure to tobacco leads to better health outcomes both for individuals and the community as a whole.”

To read the full report and look at more local data, go to

Humboldt County overall grades

Arcata: C

Blue Lake: C

Eureka: C

Ferndale: F

Fortuna: C

Rio Dell: F

Trinidad: F

Unincorporated area of Humboldt County: F

Source: American Lung Association

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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