HANFORD — Oralia Vallejo, project director for the Tobacco Control Program & Health Education Unit for the Kings County Department of Public Health, says studies have shown the dangers of smoking but work is still needed to be done to prevent youth and adults from smoking.
“Tobacco continues to be the leading cause of preventable death and disease, and in Kings County our smoking rate is 17.8 percent compared to the state rate of 11.3 percent,” said Vallejo.
Although California was the second state to raise the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21, the Central Valley still has a high percentage of youth hooked on smoking.
Young adults are beginning to smoke through electronic devices like e-cigarettes more commonly known as vaping.
Proposition 64 passed at the end of last year in the state of California and allows adults over the age of 21 to legally use, possess and share marijuana, as well as grow it at home.
However, the law on how and where people can smoke and purchase marijuana is still quite tricky, and it is still illegal to smoke marijuana in public or drive under the influence of it.
“We have such high smoking rates here in the Central Valley and with the passing of the marijuana law there is a misconception that anybody can smoke out in the open,” said Vallejo.
Vallejo is working hard to pass city ordinances across Kings County, and hopes that Hanford’s City Council can adopt a smoke free downtown policy so that nobody is exposed to second-hand smoke in public.
A total of 16 businesses in Hanford currently support and adopt this smoke-free policy and certain restrictions have already been put in place. For example, some Hanford businesses have smoke free entryways and no smoking is allowed within 20 feet of any business.
With the adoption of this smoke-free policy, these restrictions would not only be enforced but also adopted throughout the whole city.
“We get a lot of children who come to Hanford because of field trips,” said Vallejo. “These children get off the Amtrak, they come visit the park, they see the smokers and the cigarette buds, and it just sends the wrong message.”
Most of the smokers who hang out in the park think adopting a smoke-free policy in downtown Hanford is a bad idea because nobody will be following it.
“I’ve been smoking since I was 18 years old,” said Robert Lee, 57. “I’ve never had any health risks. Everybody in Hanford smokes. Everybody is out here smoking and drinking on Thursday nights.”
Lee thinks that if the city decides to ban smoking downtown then it should be stopped everywhere, but he doesn’t think that will happen.
Smoker Victor Cabrera thinks he is not bothering anybody by smoking in the park. Cabrera became homeless a few months ago, stays at the Kings Gospel Mission and then walks to the park to smoke because it relaxes him.
“Downtown has a lot of homeless and of course they are going to be smoking here, but when I smoke it makes me feel relaxed,” said Cabrera.
The Hanford City Council has still not voted on adopting the policy, and Vallejo says it really is up to the community members and the youth to step up to the plate and support a smoke-free community.
Vallejo and her team collaborate with the youth in Hanford through the California Health Collaborative Regional Advocated Countering Tobacco program.
“We are working with youth development and trying to get them involved so that they can become role models for our youth,” said Vallejo. “We want to pass policies that encourage people to quit smoking.”