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The American Lung Association gave dismal grades to several North County cities based on actions taken in tobacco prevention and control. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia
Community CommentaryOpinion

Commentary: Vista, San Marcos should expand smoke-free protections

By Paulene L. DeMesa

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, California continued to be a leader fighting the tobacco industry and protecting the youth from tobacco products in 2020.

However, some cities in the San Diego region performed better than others regarding smoke-free outdoor air.

The findings of the American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control 2021 report shows that Vista and San Marcos have the lowest grades among North Inland cities compared to Escondido, who moved closer to the top of the class from a D grade to a B.

The drastic improvement came from the City of Escondido’s approval to prohibit smoking and vaping in outdoor dining areas and public places including sidewalks and events.

That decision made history by making Escondido the first North Inland city in San Diego County to approve this type of comprehensive smoke-free policy. The American Lung Association’s high grade also makes Escondido the most improved San Diego County city in smoke-free outdoor air.

“E-cigarettes and tobacco products and secondhand exposure pose a severe threat to children, adolescents, and families,” said Mike Strong, Director of Community Development Department of the City of Escondido. “It had been spiraling out of control in Escondido and putting kids in danger of addiction and serious health problems.

“The Escondido City Council recognized this problem and wanted to do something about it. Because of their leadership, new smoke-free policies, tobacco retail licensing requirements, and display and sale restrictions establish a pathway to help end the youth smoking epidemic. I hope that Escondido can serve as an example to other cities to score similar health victories.”

Now is the ideal time for other cities, like San Marcos and Vista, to adopt the same policy as Escondido.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of lung health and breathing clean, fresh air,” says Jennifer Gill, Program Manager at Vista Community Clinic and resident of San Marcos. “Escondido has made great strides in restricting smoking and vaping in outdoor areas.

“While San Marcos and Vista have some smoke-free outdoor air policies, there are additional areas, such as outdoor dining areas, where people are still left vulnerable to the health impacts of secondhand smoke. Implementing smoke-free outdoor dining policies will close these gaps.”

In 2019, Vista Community Clinic conducted a survey among residents and frequent visitors of San Marcos and found that 91% prefer an area where smoking is not allowed when eating outside.

There are 120 cities in California that restrict smoking in outdoor dining areas, 13 of which are in San Diego County, including the communities of Escondido and the unincorporated areas of San Diego County.

Paulene DeMesa is a communications specialist at Vista Community Clinic.