San Francisco was once was a leader in its anti-smoking policies, but it is now home to one of the highest percentages of smokers compared to other large cities in California.
Roughly 13 percent of residents in The City are smokers, according to a new report released by the California Department of Public Health on Monday. By comparison, about 10 percent of the population of Los Angeles and 11 percent of San Diego smokes.
But the number of smokers is an improvement since 1996, according to the San Francisco Public Health Department. At that time, about 19.5 percent of the population smoked. Health officials speculate that the demographics and availability in San Francisco might be why The City has higher numbers than others.
“San Francisco is unique. At almost every corner, you can buy tobacco,” Tobacco Free Project Director Alyonik Hrushow said. “It creates this sort of appearance that tobacco is everywhere and everybody is smoking.”
Also, the rate of children in households in San Francisco is low, which creates less of an incentive for people to not smoke, according to Hrushow.
In 1994, The City was ahead of the curve when it passed historic legislation that banned smoking in public areas such as restaurants, parks and transit stops. Also, this year officials expanded smoking bans to open areas such as ATM lines, around building doorways and in common residential areas.
And San Francisco has placed restrictions on where tobacco can be purchased. In 2008, The City banned the sale of tobacco in pharmacies such as Walgreens and expanded that law this year to ban it from big-box retailers.
Those who do buy cigarettes in The City face an additional 20-cent fee for each pack, and that money goes toward cleaning up litter caused by smokers. The fee is on top of state and federal taxes.
But the laws and fees are still not enough to persuade people to quit, according to UC San Francisco, which has operated a Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education for eight years.
“It was once upon a time we were a real leader on smoke-free policies, but we’re sort of behind the times now. We made tremendous progress,” center Director Stan Glantz said. “We can basically wipe out tobacco as a public health problem in three to five years with a substantial increase in [taxes].”
San Francisco has a higher percentage of smokers than many other large cities in the state despite its many anti-smoking laws.
Bay Area smoking rates by county
San Francisco: 13.5%
San Mateo: 9.6%
Contra Costa: 9.6%
Santa Clara: 8.0%
Other smoking rates by county
San Luis Obispo: 13.0%
San Bernardino: 12.7%
Santa Barbara: 11.6%
San Diego: 11.0%
Los Angeles: 10.4%
Source: California Department of Public Health
The number of residents in San Francisco who smoke has declined since 1990.
Note: San Francisco numbers are from the California Tobacco Survey, which does not release localized statistics annually
Source: San Francisco Department of Public Health