Smoke gets in your eyes in nicotine-stained Central Valley

Though the Bakersfield area has the most smokers, according to UCLA research, the next four smokiest areas are at the Sacramento end of the Valley.
Though the Bakersfield area has the most smokers, according to UCLA research, the next four smokiest areas are at the Sacramento end of the Valley. The Associated Press

Smoking is so déclassé, or so we’ve been told.

The smoking rate among California adults hovers at 12.5 percent, far below the national average of 19 percent. But this is a big state with many regions.

Smokers evidently are not the social outcasts in, say, Bakersfield, Redding or Sacramento County that they are in San Mateo and Atherton.

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research estimates the percentages of people 18 and older who smoke in each Assembly, Senate and congressional district.

The data show that in the Bakersfield-area district represented by Republican Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, the percentage of adults who smoke is roughly 19.5 percent.

Contrast that with the peninsula districts of Democrats Kevin Mullin and Richard Gordon, where, UCLA estimates, 8.5 percent and 8.9 percent of the adults smoke.

Smoking rates in various Assembly districts might be a little higher or lower. UCLA statisticians take pains to say they’re estimating.

Still, the city that gave us Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy seems to have the worst smoking problem in California. However, don’t be too quick to wag your finger at the smoky southern end of the Central Valley.

The next four smokiest districts are at the Sacramento end of the Valley, including areas represented by Assemblymen Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, Brian Dahle, R-Nubieber, James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, and Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento.

Anti-smoking advocates long have said one way to reduce smoking is to raise the cost by jacking up tobacco taxes. Health groups and organized labor will ask the Legislature to approve a tobacco tax increase of $2 per pack, on top of the current rate of 87 cents per pack. Failing that, they’ll seek to place an initiative on the ballot in 2016.

Count McCarty as an aye vote:

“Absolutely, the money can go to public health and fund things like Medi-Cal,” McCarty said. “Whether my district is No. 5 or No. 8, too many adults are smoking. It affects the budget, and it kills. We need to do more to fight tobacco.”

Tobacco giants Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds spent $3.05 million on California campaigns in the 2013-14 election cycle, campaign finance reports filed this week show.

McCarty, like the California Democratic Party, turns down the tobacco industry’s campaign money. But based on history, several Democrats would join Republicans in voting against a tobacco tax hike if it were to reach the Assembly or Senate floors.

Outside California, not all Republicans take a knee-jerk reaction against tobacco taxes. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, proposes to raise that state’s tobacco tax by 40 cents, to $1.20 per pack.

For straying from GOP orthodoxy, Sandoval incurred the wrath of Grover Norquist, he of the no-tax pledge, and Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, which accepts tobacco industry donations.

“We rate this a full flip-flop,” the organization said in a blog blasting Sandoval’s tax package.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 19.4. percent of adults in Nevada smoke, roughly the rate of Grove’s district.

I wondered whether Grove, who has accepted $27,400 in tobacco donations since running for office, might align herself with Sandoval. She neglected to call back. I’d count that as a no vote.


UCLA Center for Health Policy Research estimates smoking by Assembly district:

▪ Shannon Grove, Bakersfield, AD 34: 19.5 percent

▪ Ken Cooley, Rancho Cordova, AD 8: 18.3 percent

▪ Brian Dahle, Nubieber, AD 1: 18.2 percent

▪ James Gallagher, Yuba City, AD 3: 18 percent

▪ Kevin McCarty, Sacramento, AD 7, 17.7 percent