Separate survey shows nearly a 50% decrease in
high school student smoking since 1995
November 5, 2003
"For years, I have found the high rate of tobacco use by Alaska youth to be unacceptable," said Governor Frank H. Murkowski. "I directed Commissioner of Health and Social Services Joel Gilbertson to do everything in our power to cut tobacco purchased and used by kids."
"I am proud to say that the Governor's get-tough approach on illegal tobacco sales to minors worked," Gilbertson, said. "The State"s positive results are through strong tobacco enforcement efforts, a statewide tobacco vendor education campaign, and by acting swiftly with penalties for locations where we uncovered illegal sales." Gilbertson commended tobacco vendors for doing their part to keep tobacco out of the hands of our young people, noting, "The illegal sale of tobacco products to Alaska"s youth has dropped from 30.2 percent in 2002 to 10 percent in 2003. This is one of the lowest levels in the nation."
One of the most pressing health issues facing Alaskan youth today is tobacco use, according to Gilbertson. Young people are especially susceptible to nicotine addiction. Tobacco use leads to cancer and cardiovascular disease, the number one and number two killers of Alaskans. Commissioner Gilbertson said there is no safe level of tobacco use.
"Alaska's youth represent Alaska's future. The encouraging results from both the Synar survey and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that investing in tobacco prevention and control works. It is our collective responsibility to continue these efforts and help young people grow up free from tobacco addiction," Gilbertson said.
Since 1996, Alaska has conducted the "Synar Survey", a statewide undercover youth tobacco survey, to ascertain the state's compliance with laws that prohibit sales of tobacco products to young people ages 18 and under. Gilbertson said between 1996 and 2002, the average illegal rate of tobacco sales to youth was 30.5 percent.
Recently, the 2003 YRBS showed that while smoking rates have declined overall, smoking rates among Alaska Native youth remain a significant problem and exceed that seen among non-Native youth.
Currently, 44 percent of Alaska Native high school students report that they smoked at least one cigarette in the past month, down from 62 percent in 1995. Overall, the survey showed a 50 percent decrease in smoking among high school students since 1995. In this year's survey, the percent of the state's high school students that say they smoked at least one cigarette in the past month dropped from 37 percent in 1995 to 19 percent in 2003. Heavy smoking, which was defined as "having smoked cigarettes on at least 20 days in the previous month," fell from 21 percent in 1995, to 8 percent today.
"We have made substantial progress in Alaska, but clearly we need to continue efforts that effectively decrease tobacco use among our youth," Gilbertson said. "If we can keep today's kids from getting hooked on nicotine, Alaska can look forward to significant reductions in heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases in the coming decades."
The YRBS was conducted jointly by the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services and Department of Education and Early Development. It surveyed 1,500 Alaska high school students, who were randomly chosen from nearly every school district in the state. The full results of the survey are still being evaluated, and will be released at a future time.
"Many groups have dedicated substantial resources to develop and implement targeted interventions that decrease the problem of youth tobacco use," Gilbertson said. He said the steep drop in youth smoking can be attributed to the commitment of the State Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance, local Community Tobacco Prevention and Control coalitions, Native partners and legislators who helped pass tobacco control initiatives.
The State continues to provide
funding for community-based tobacco prevention and control grants,
tobacco cessation opportunities, including a 24-hour free tobacco
Quitline (1-888-842-QUIT), an effective media campaign that targets
youth prevention and active enforcement of Alaska's tobacco laws.
Source of News Release: