Smoker pic

Despite expensive public health campaigns, multiple fines and penalties and myriad restrictions on where Alaskans can even use tobacco products, the number of residents who occasionally light up, chew or vape has remained steady over the past decade or so.

After gleaning data from youth surveys, telephone interviews and local resources around Alaska, the state’s latest tobacco report shows that roughly 26% of residents partook in some sort of tobacco or nicotine product in 2020. That’s virtually unchanged from the 25% who reported consuming these products in 2014.

Traditional cigarettes remained the most common (19%), followed by smokeless tobacco (7%) and e-cigarettes (6%). Many Alaskans enjoyed multiple tobacco products, with half or more using them daily.

Notwithstanding the steady number of tobacco consumers, the state continues to ascribe to the CDC’s mantra that reducing tobacco is a “winnable battle” in public health.

As such, the state follows the CDC’s multi-pronged strategy of employing community interventions, state-run health campaigns, marketing strategies, cessation interventions, government grants promoting tobacco-free policies, widespread surveillance and evaluation of tobacco users and penalties, the state report notes.

When broken down into types of tobacco use, smoking among adults (ages 18 and older) declined from 26% in 1998 to 19% in 2020. Vaping dropped from 7% of adults in 2014 to 5% in 2020, while smokeless tobacco consumers rose from 5% of adults in 1998 to 7% in 2020.

Youth tobacco consumption rose from 32% in 2015 to 35% in 2019, with 26% saying they prefer vaping products. The percentage of youth cigarette users dropped from 16% in 2009 to 8% in 2019, while smokeless tobacco consumers rose from 10% in 2013 to 11% in 2019.

Alaska’s steady tobacco consumption comes despite the fact that most private homes ban smoking (91%), as do most workplaces (87%). In 2018, Alaska passed a law banning indoor workplace smoking or vaping.

According to the latest report, the state would like to see more bans, restrictions, penalties and fines with regard to tobacco consumption.

The report makes no mention of marijuana, of which the state and many local governments urge “responsible consumption,” including legal on-site usage at recreational pot shops.

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State campaigns and myriad penalties fail to dampen Alaskans’ penchant for tobacco

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 20 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.