Alaska life

Helping Ourselves to Be Tobacco-Free

I love the coming of a new year. It is a great time for reflection about your life and it is a time to make new resolutions. It is a time when anything seems possible.

My daughters and I participated in a commercial for tobacco prevention for the State of Alaska. I used to smoke cigarettes in my teens and college years. I stopped when I started having children. I know of a few people who planning to quit tobacco in 2015, mainly for their health and children.

I have a wish list of things that I would like to see changed in 2015. One wish I have on the list is to lower the statistics of Alaska Natives using tobacco. Is 2015 a year to make that resolution to quit using tobacco? No matter if it’s a New Year’s resolution or any other times, it’s worth it to at least consider stopping tobacco use for your health.

According to the State of Alaska’s Tobacco Prevention & Control Program, Alaska Native adults have a smoking prevalence of 42.3% and a smokeless tobacco prevalence of 14.8% in 2013. Alaska Native youth have a smoking prevalence of 18.5% and a smokeless tobacco prevalence of 20.5% in 2013.

I spoke with Larry Kairaiuak with the State of Alaska Tobacco Prevention & Control program. Larry explained the increasing usage of e-cigarettes by youth. Usage of e-cigarettes by youth tripled in between 2011 and 2013. According to Larry, e-cigarettes are not regulated and they contain carcinogens (cancer causing agents).

“This is a growing trend we have to pay attention to, just to be one the safe side. We need to eliminate all types of harmful tobacco from our lives. It has long term affects. It has taken away our family member much too soon.”- Larry Kairaiuak, Yup’ik

Amy Modig shared the 2014 Alaska Tobacco Facts report. She works with the Growing Up Tobacco-Free in Alaska program at RurAL CAP. Amy pointed out the following statistics and information.

  • In 2011, there were about 3,600 deaths in Alaska (all deaths). Almost 600 died from tobacco use, making one in six deaths tobacco-related.
  • Smoking prevalence has remained high for Alaska Native adults, and has not changes significantly since 1996. Roughly 1 in 3 Alaska Native adults (37.9%) smoked in 2012.
  • Among non-Native adults, smoking has decreased significantly from 24.9% in 1996 to 18.1% in 2012 (p ‹ 0.001).
  • Use of smokeless tobacco has increased significantly among current smokers from 3.6% in 1996 to 7.0% in 2012.
  • Use of smokeless tobacco has not changed significantly among former smokers between 1996 to 2012, but there is a significant decrease among adults who have never been smokers.

The statistics tell the story and truth of tobacco usage among Alaska Natives. It is a real issue with real consequences for ourselves and our loved ones. The information also shows the rise of e-cigarette usage.

Despite what the statistics tell us (or maybe because of them), I think it is important to have hope that we can be smoke-free. It may take a lot of help and encouragement. Resources are available and at your fingertips.

I asked friends in November – What is one thing that you would tell your younger self (or a younger tobacco user) about tobacco use? Check out their powerful responses on this previous blog post.

Remember, the New Year is a time when anything seems possible. Maybe you already have plans to quit tobacco this year. I wish you the best of luck! You can do it.

Alaska's Tobacco Quitline has a ton of resources for tobacco-user to kick the habit and other information. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or enroll online through this website.
Alaska’s Tobacco Quitline has a ton of resources for tobacco-user to kick the habit and other information. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or enroll online through this website.

Alaska’s Tobacco Quit Line – 800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669)

Alaska Tobacco Prevention and Control Program

Safe and Healthy Me – Tobacco Free – State of Alaska



Great American Smokeout Day – November 20

Great American Smokeout - Nov. 20
Great American Smokeout – Nov. 20

The Great American Smokeout Day is coming up on November 20. It’s a day when tobacco users make a commitment to stop using tobacco. We hear the messages on TV and radio, see posters about it on the negative effects of tobacco-use and the reasons to quit. The statistics are not good for Alaskans, especially Alaska Native people. I am no expert on the subject, so I’m providing a few resources.

I smoked cigarettes in my teens and through college. I stopped when I became pregnant with my first daughter. It wasn’t easy to quit, but I made a commitment. It made me too tired and I wanted to make a positive change in my life. So many of smokers start out at a young age, and keep up the habit into adulthood. Prevention is so important because it is a difficult habit to quit. I reached out to my friends on Facebook and asked them for some advice, and they provided some excellent reasons to never start.

What is one thing that you would tell your younger self (or a younger tobacco user) about tobacco use?

Alaska's Tobacco Quitline has a ton of resources for tobacco-user to kick the habit and other information. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or enroll online through this website.
Alaska’s Tobacco Quitline has a ton of resources for tobacco-user to kick the habit and other information. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or enroll online through this website.

“If I knew then how hard it would be to quit now, 20 years later, I would have not started. I started smoking trying to be cool, all the kids were doing it. Cigarettes are $12.50 a pack out here in Hughes, and I pay it, it is the hardest vice ever to quit. A carton now a days in Fairbanks is about $80.00. It is different for everyone, I admire those of you who were able to quit, it is hard for some of us, because I do want to quit. I have quit a lot of vices/addictions, this is by far the hardest.” – Tal Beetus Baker

“Tobacco has never appealed to me. It taste bad, gives you bad breath, and lingers around you all day. It is in no way attractive. Tobacco, drinking and drugs are always talked about but one thing no mentioned is also having an addictive personality that plays a key role.” – Paul and Alberta John

“It started as only a couple a week. Then it turned into just a couple a day. It took forever to quit. It is so easy to fool yourself into thinking just a few won’t hurt me.” – Rhonda Pitka

“The cost are high not only money but health. Tough addiction to quit.” – Raquel Williams

“It doesn’t keep you stay skinny. It causes so many problems you don’t even realize, and some you do. You can even get periodontal disease, bladder problems, your skin will age faster, etc.” – Kathy Ward

“Stop before you start.” – Gabe Sam

The Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance mission is to create conditions for Alaskans to live free from the harmful effects of tobacco.
The Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance mission is to create conditions for Alaskans to live free from the harmful effects of tobacco.

“It’s too expensive there’s better ways to spend your money. I’ve lost a lot of friends and family to cancer and I don’t like the smell of it on clothes.” – Val Babich

“I would tell younger men that smoking is a total deal-breaker for many of the ladies.” – Miriam Aarons

“You cannot afford to smoke or chew.” – Agnes Dayton

“It is very hard to quit smoking and costs you a lot of money which you could buy a new snow machine or vehicle to drive. I smoked for 40+ years and could have bought a new house probably.” – Darrell M Vent

“Chew is not worth it! I used to tell my kids, ‘Who wants to kiss you with chew in your mouth?!’ ‘Don’t smoke’, dad used to say. You save thousands every year when you don’t smoke.” – Selina Sam

“How much are cartons of cigarettes these days? When I smoked, I was appalled when it hit $18 per carton. I think the last carton I bought was about $22. So I stopped buying them by the carton and only a pack at a time. I quit around 1999, and after that only an occasional smoke. Once in a great while I might smoke a pipe, but now I have no idea where my pipe went in 2008. That was the last time I saw it.” – John Gregg

“Don’t start because you won’t be able to stop.” – Marie Jeno

“Tobacco smoke will give you a face full of wrinkles.” – Will Yaska

“I started to be ‘cool’ also at age 11; more than 1/2 my life ago. I sure don’t want my kids to! It’s not even hard to quit – I did cold turkey 11 months ago tomorrow. You just have to want to! I still crave a cigarette when I’m stressed/aggravated, then sometimes I get a whiff of one and I’m good. Ryan quit when we found out we were pregnant…almost 13 years ago!” – Gina McCarty

“I have a lot of young friends who use tobacco in any form. I have friends who smoked since they were 11 years old!! Can you imagine that? Some don’t smoke anymore and some of them passed away. When I was a young girl my cousins were smoking and they hand me the cigarette and said ‘inhale’. I didn’t know what the meant so they showed me. I inhaled and got all choked up, couldn’t breathe, and I thought that was the end of me. My one cousin’s parents use to chew, so she use to sneak some from her dad. One time she put some in my mouth. It burned my mouth! I spit it out! That one I never tried again, but cigarette I tried but I didn’t like the smell on my clothes. My late dad also told us since we were little girls, ‘Women shouldn’t smoke.’ My late parents both smoked back then. Both of them quit later on and lived smoke free lives. I met a woman last night who quit three weeks ago. She will be 55 this month. She’s real happy for herself and I’m happy for her. She quit ‘cold turkey’ and said she’s been thinking about it for a long time. Think about your kids or grandchildren and think about, ‘Do I really want to continue doing this?’  It’s not too late to quit cigarettes or chew. It’s time to quit for the sake of your family.” – Velma Schafer

“I smoked for half of my life before I quit four years ago. I can’t believe people still smoke, it’s so archaic. There’s this pretty young lady that rides the bus in the mornings with me, she smells like an ashtray.” – Loretta Linus

“I quit smoking ‘cold turkey’ about eight years ago. I was sitting in the porch smoking my granddaughter said, ‘Grandma, you need to quit smoking because you’re the only grandma that I see smoking and it’s embarrassing.’ I was talking to late Kam Ballard, and he said to quit on his birthday so that’s the day I quit. The kids notice I don’t smell like an ashtray. I used to smoke four packs a day. I had lots of friends because they need cigarettes. I saved myself a lot of money, but lost my friends. I also got off all my medicines.” – Irene Peters

“Hey you young wild child, smoking makes you smell horrible! Snuff out tobacco.” – Teflon Barb

“Wow, I wish I could go back in time and talk myself out of ever starting. I wanted to be a cool bad kid. I have overcome a lot of addiction but cigarettes are far and away the hardest habit to drop I have ever seen. I genuinely wish I hadn’t ever picked up the addiction. There just isn’t any going back. Once you’ve been a smoker you will always be a smoker or an ex-smoker.” – April Lynn

“That it’s the only thing I did when I was young that I regret doing. It was something dumb that I could have avoided.” – Liz Fullerton

“I am the product of second hand smoke from womb until I moved out on my own at age 18. I have chronic problems with my lungs, heart and inflammatory disease, all symptoms of second hand smoke. Though I take excellent care of myself, that is one thing I had no control over and I hope that the healthy lifestyle I have chosen to live will override the toxins that my mother chose to expose me to from the first moment of conception. My mother was a child of the 1950’s and 1960’s where young women smoked to subdue their appetite and to look glamorous, where the Marlboro man was sexy and displayed on billboards up and down the highway, and young men wanted to portray that tough guy from the movies (who usually was smoking a cigarette). I think that the baby boomers had it tougher because they were misled into smoking, but my generation and the ones to follow should never have started smoking as the health concerns and warning information has been available for 30 years.” – Liane Mae

“To my young teen self:  ‘Give up cigarettes with your so-called friend & cousin who got you started! Twenty years from now you’ll appreciate that you look young while they have wrinkles on their faces! It WILL make you addicted and you will waste SO much money on it. Look at photos constantly of people with mouth & throat cancer from tobacco!’ I had parents who constantly hated smoking so eventually their lectures kicked in for me; I cut back to be one of those “drinker-smokers” and then eventually I just gave up the partying and the smoking, too! The smell is terrible and I see people with yellow stained teeth. I’m glad to not waste money on cigarettes and to have never smoked when I was pregnant either. Kids deserve better.” – Holly Flynn

“Hey you. You think you are cool with that cancer stick in your mouth. Get real. Grow up young Sarah.” – Sarah Mattingly-Benson

“That I would have never had the breathing issue I have now or the allergies.” – Katherine McConkey

“I’m at 4 months cold turkey after smoking for 20 years.” – Miz Tooyou

Thank you to my brave friends and relatives for speaking up and sharing their advice. Quitting tobacco is one of the most difficult things to do and it is a personal decision. I’m glad I quit smoking. I’m thankful for the support of my family and friends when I stopped smoking and later when I stopped drinking alcohol about five years ago. I really want to set a good example for my children. There are a million and one reasons to quit and there are tons of ways to do so. Let’s not let tobacco-use be our legacy for future generations. Consider quitting on the Great American Smokeout on November 20 or encourage a loved on to do so. You can do it!

In case you need more inspiration, here are some great digital stories told by Alaskans produced by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.