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Public health solutions for a tobacco-free Alaska: Part 2 in a series on tobacco use and prevention for Alaska Native people

April 24, 2015


As tobacco use among Alaska Native people remains stubbornly high, many communities and organizations across the state are using public health policy solutions as an effective means to curb tobacco use. Policy solutions include smoke-free laws, tobacco-free school policies, smoke-free housing policies and tobacco tax increases. Policy solutions are proven public health strategies to reduce tobacco use and eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke. ANTHC is supportive of these efforts and adopted its own tobacco-free workplace policy in 2006.

Smoke-free Communities: In 1998, Bethel became the first Alaska community to pass a smoke-free workplace ordinance, eliminating smoking in all public workplaces. Since then, communities from every corner of the state have followed Bethel’s lead. Palmer, Anchorage, Nome, Sitka, Barrow, Juneau, Dillingham, Haines, Klawock, Petersburg, Skagway and Unalaska all have smoke-free workplace laws. This means that about 50 percent of Alaska’s population is covered by smoke-free workplace laws. Villages across Alaska have taken it a step further by passing their own smoke-free and tobacco-free workplace resolutions, which eliminate smoking and tobacco use in or on Tribally-owned property. Currently, 108 of Alaska’s 225 tribes have passed a smoke-free or tobacco-free workplace resolution.

Tobacco-free Schools: Alaska has made great strides in reducing tobacco use among youth. Alaska’s high school youth smoking rate has declined a whopping 70 percent, or 10,825 fewer youth smokers, since 1995. To demonstrate the importance of declining tobacco use, school districts across Alaska have made it a priority to make their campuses 100 percent tobacco-free. Currently, 29 out of the 54 school districts in Alaska have adopted a comprehensive tobacco-free campus policy which eliminates smoking and smokeless tobacco use by students, employees, contractors and visitors on all school property.

Smoke-free Housing: The proportion of Alaska Native adults who reported that smoking is not allowed anywhere in their homes increased from 81 percent in 2001 to 93 percent in 2011. Today, housing authorities also realize the health and economic benefits of making their properties smoke-free. Currently, 10 housing authorities in Alaska are completely smoke-free and many more are considering similar policies.

Tobacco Tax Increases: Increases in cigarette prices have been shown to reduce the initiation, prevalence, and intensity of smoking among youth and young adults, according to the 2012 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Youth and Young Adult Smoking. In Alaska, local tobacco taxes have been raised in several communities. In 2012-13, Bethel and the Mat-Su Borough increased their cigarette taxes to $2.21 and other tobacco products are now taxed at 45 percent of the wholesale price. Today, communities such as Petersburg and Juneau have taken their efforts a step further by including taxation on e-cigarettes as well.

Policies such as these are one part of the solution to reduce tobacco-use among our Alaska Native people and combat the number one preventable cause of death and disease. Overall adult smoking has decreased 25 percent since 1996 and overall youth smoking decreased 70 percent since 1995, yet we still see dramatic disparities in smoking prevalence among Alaska Native youth and adults. ANTHC supports Tribes considering smoke-free or tobacco-free resolutions and advocates for a statewide comprehensive smoke-free workplace law for all Alaskans.

To learn more about the ANTHC Tobacco Prevention and Control Program email tobacco@anthc.org.


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