Smoking Rates Decline Among Alaska Teens

Teen smoking has fallen significantly in the last six years. That’s the finding of a new state report, but there’s still work to be done.

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Overall, smoking rates among teenagers have dropped by 40 percent, but Alaska Native youths smoke at twice the rate of non-Native teens.

Photo by Josh Edge, APRN - Anchorage.
Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

“I’m tired of seeing our people wash their face with their tears because so many people die of cancer,” Lincoln Bean, the vice chair of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, said.

His life – like many others – has been affected by smoking and the health issues that often accompany it.

“Just before July my ex-wife passed away from cancer weighing 84 pounds; and now her son is stage two with lung cancer – a young man,” Bean said. “These stories need to be told to our young people; this is a deadly habit.”

He encourages Alaska’s native leaders to take the lead on continuing to deter youths from smoking.

“Smoking tobacco is not a part of our traditional culture in Alaska, not that I’m aware of, and I’ve been around for awhile,” Bean said.

Nearly 20 percent of Alaska Native youths reported smoking within the last month – down from more than 30 percent in 2007.

Dr. Ward Hurlburt, the state’s Chief Medical Officer, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention typically ranks Alaska first among states for its efforts to reduce youth tobacco use – and he says those efforts are working.

“These are great numbers; it’s wonderful news,” Hurlburt said. “And while it’s encouraging to see these numbers moving in the right direction and having moved this far, we also know that there remains much work to be done.”

The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey involved over 1,200 randomly-selected students across 43 of Alaska’s public high schools.