Thursday, March 3, 2011
In a shift from creating smoke-free to smoker-free environments, the County Board of Supervisors is considering an outright ban on smokers working at the health department and Natividad Medical Center. Under the proposal, applicants would sign a non-smoker declaration – and if subsequently caught smoking, could be terminated for lying on their applications.
The health committee began investigating the policy after Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula implemented a similar ban last April. CHOMP has since rejected two applicants because they were smokers.
Monterey County Public Health Director Hugh Stallworth considers the policy a test that could expand to all county jobs. “Our mission is health. The message that I give to our employees is, regardless of the position that you occupy in this health department, you are a part of what we’re doing.”
The policy comes after years of smoking prohibitions in public places and an average 267 percent increase on cigarette taxes since 1995, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC found a 10-percent price increase reduces consumption by 4 percent. Taxes are “an important tool in a public health strategy,” says Assemblyman Bill Monning.
Monning hopes to apply the same model to sweetened beverages to curb rising obesity and related diseases like diabetes. But lobbyist Bob Achermann of the CA-NV Soft Drink Association says it’s not a fair analogy. “Cigarettes are the only product that kills when used as directed.”
Monning’s bill would levy a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, generating an estimated $1.7 billion annually and creating a fund for public health.
Stallworth says the tax would “level the playing field” on artificially low prices resulting from agricultural subsidies – and marketing. A 2008 Federal Trade Commission study found soda peddlers spent the most money – $492 million – marketing to children under age 17. Meanwhile, one in three children are overweight or obese on the Central Coast; in one county school district, 70 percent of students are obese.