Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and in Alaska. To address this enormous toll, the American Lung Association calls for the following actions to be taken by Alaska's elected officials:
- Protect Medicaid Expansion to preserve access to tobacco cessation treatments for this population; and
- Protect tobacco prevention and control funding.
For much of the rest of the state, though, a statewide law was the only way to ensure protection due to limited local municipal government powers. Combined with the thousands of Alaskans who live in areas with no local government at all, Alaska's law, implemented on October 1, 2018, protected 350,000 Alaskans who could not be legally protected from secondhand smoke at the local level.
Extending smokefree protections in public places and workplaces to places in Alaska that were unable to pass local ordinances is an important step to help protect communities. Unfortunately, the inclusion of the local opt-out provision means the legislation falls short of the comprehensive protections that all Alaskans deserve. The Lung Association strongly encourages all communities in Alaska to keep smokefree protections in place to protect their residents from secondhand smoke, and was heartened to see Sitka, Alaska voters defeat an attempt to opt-out of the statewide law in October 2018.
Currently 44,767 Alaskans are covered through Medicaid Expansion in our state. By definition, Medicaid covers low-income Alaskans. Retaining coverage is critical for reducing the toll of tobacco in Alaska because Medicaid provides cessation coverage and this population uses tobacco at a much higher rate than other income levels.
Alaska's Tobacco Prevention and Control program follows the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's Best Practices with the goals of preventing youth from starting tobacco use; protecting non-smokers from secondhand smoke; promoting cessation; and identifying and eliminating tobacco-related disparities. Since 1996, the rate of Alaskan adults who smoke has dropped from 28 percent to 19 percent due in large part to our comprehensive tobacco control program. There remain, however, significant disparities and rates overall exceed national rates. Alaska Native, low socio-economic status, young adult (18-24), Alaskans experiencing mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders, and the LGBT community all have higher tobacco use rates.
Alaska has also made huge progress in reducing youth cigarette smoking rates, by over 60 percent since 1995 to 11 percent overall today. Youth in Alaska are now, however, using electronic smoking devices (18%) more than conventional cigarettes, and continued policy and education strategies are needed to curb this disturbing trend