In the past year, Berkeley moved to the head of the class while Walnut Creek earned its first ever passing grade on the American Lung Association's annual tobacco-use report card.
The association released its annual State of Tobacco Control report Wednesday, grading cities and counties across California on their anti-smoking efforts. The report finds such efforts have stalled in many Bay Area cities and counties but that Berkeley, Daly City, Walnut Creek and Lafayette made major strides in 2013.
"There are 18 communities that now have 100 percent smoke-free laws," said Serena Chen, regional advocacy director for the American Lung Association. "When I added that up, that's 1.3 million people who live in smoke-free (areas) -- that's pretty awesome. That's the population of Hawaii."
But of the 330 cities and counties throughout California, more than 60 percent -- including Antioch, Moraga and Santa Clara -- received an F grade. Oakland and San Francisco received B's, and San Jose a C.
The grades reflect local policies based on the lung association's three criteria: smoke-free outdoor air, smoke-free housing and reducing sales of tobacco products.
Berkeley is the only new city on the "A" list, its city council having passed a smoke-free multifamily housing ordinance in December; it takes effect May 1. Chen said it took 11 years for Berkeley to ban smoking in apartments and condominiums.
"The main stumbling block is it's one of the birthplaces of rent control, and there is a really strong protection of tenants' rights," Chen said. "Some feared that some landlords might take a smoking law to arbitrarily go after tenants that pay below-market-rate rents."
Walnut Creek went from an F grade to a B, after its city council passed a secondhand-smoking ordinance in December prohibiting smoking in most public spaces, all of downtown and in and around multifamily housing.
Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson said that in the 1990s the city led the state in secondhand-smoke protection when it banned smoking from workplaces and restaurants. She is happy that the city once again is at the forefront.
"I think it's representative of our longstanding commitment to health," she said.
Walnut Creek didn't get an A, Chen said, because the city has not done enough to reduce the sale of tobacco products, Chen said.
While Lawson said she wants to raise that grade, City Councilman Justin Wedel is circulating a petition for a November ballot initiative to overturn a portion of the new law, saying that banning smoking in multifamily homes violates people's property rights.
Chen said that in multifamily homes 65 percent of a residence's air is shared with their neighbors, making containing smoke impossible.
"If someone is doing something that harms everyone else in the building, then it's a public health issue, not a property rights issue," she said.
Union City and Richmond, which banned e-cigarettes last year, already had A grades, and there is no A-plus on the scale, Chen said. In Contra Costa, Lafayette and San Ramon went from F's to C's, but the East County cities of Antioch, Brentwood, Oakley and Pittsburg each received an F. The Oakley City Council, however, will discuss a secondhand-smoke ordinance on Jan. 27.
Pittsburg Mayor Sal Evola said no residents or groups have asked for secondhand-smoke restrictions. "And unless I did have a group or (resident) come to me or the city, I do not think it is something we are going to set out and do on our own," Evola said.
Chen counters that city leaders often discover pent-up support in their communities for such restrictions.
Staff writers Karina Ioffee, Eve Mitchell, Rowena Coetsee and Chris De Benedetti contributed to this report. Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.
To see the full American Lung Association annual State of Tobacco Control report, go to www.lung.org/california.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking kills about 443,000 people per year in the United States. Of those, about 49,000 die from exposure to secondhand smoke.