Although Santa Barbara County residents have been breathing easier for years, they can now inhale with pride.

Santa Barbara County was among seven other California counties honored Tuesday with the American Lung Association’s Platinum Lung Public Health Award, recognizing communities that have achieved a 95 percent compliance rate with the California’s 1998 Smoke-Free Bar Law, which prohibits smoking in drinking and eating establishments.

The recognition was awarded by Breath, the ALA’s smoke-free bars, workplaces and communities program, and placed Santa Barbara in the top eight of the 529 jurisdictions throughout California. Sharing this distinction are San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, San Benito, Alpine, Madera, Marin, Mono and Shasta counties.

Dian Kiser, Breath co-director, described the importance of Santa Barbara’s achievement both locally and statewide.

“[This award] signifies a milestone in smoke-free workplace excellence that is given to the ‘best of the best,'” Kiser said. “California is the world leader in smoke-free environments, and recipients of the ‘Platinum Lung Public Health Award’ within California set the standard for excellence.”

Now over five years after the implementation of the Smoke-Free Bar Law, the Platinum Lung award recognizes the large gains communities have made in increasing workplace health. Dawn Dunn, program director of the Santa Barbara Tobacco Settlement Prevention Program, praised the commitment of Santa Barbara County in achieving results in such a short period of time.

“Initially people were skeptical about whether it would really work, but at the five-year mark, both the public and business owners really support it,” she said. “The state Dept. of Health Services released information showing the good this law is doing for businesses and public health throughout California.”

Senior political science major Chris Tan said he agrees with the state department’s findings. He said he does not mind the effects of the law.

“In Santa Barbara, I’m not affected at all; it doesn’t bother me to just smoke outside,” Tan said.

The county’s success represents the work of public health officials, law enforcement, business owners and the public. Not only has Santa Barbara achieved over 95 percent compliance, but it has also adopted one of California’s most stringent outdoor air policies.

In December 2001, the implementation of the Tobacco Control Ordinance created a 20-foot non-smoking barrier around commercial businesses in the county’s unincorporated areas. Over a year later, employees like Java Jones manager Kara Wall seem happy with the results.

“At the time it was introduced I thought it was a little unfair, but I haven’t noticed any adverse effects since then,” she said.