Peninsula groups offer help to quit tobacco

In 2016, about 20 percent of Alaska adults identified as smokers, according to Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. On Thursday, local groups, in conjunction with American Cancer Society, are hoping that number will drop.

The Great American Smokeout, which takes place each year on the third Thursday of November, challenges smokers across the nation to start their tobacco-free journey. This year, specialized quit kits will be available at Bridges Community Resource Center in Soldotna and the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Kenai, to help any community member hoping to quit.

There are specialized kits for both chewing tobacco users and cigarette smokers, said Pamela Howard of the Peninsula Smokefree Partnership.

“The chewing tobacco quit kits acutally have some cinnamon toothpicks and mints in snuff cans, instead of tobacco,” Howard said. “And there is a lot of information.”

The biggest piece of information for those looking to quit is the Quit Line number at 1-800-QUITNOW, or 1-800-784-8869, Howard said, which is a state funded tobacco cessation program.

In 2016, the state reported that of the one in five Alaska adults who smoke, three out of five have tried to quit in the past 12 months.

“You can call the number looking for help for the day, or get 12 counseling calls a year,” Howard said.

The Alaska Tobaco Quit Line also offers free nicotine replacement therapy for up to eight weeks, no matter a smoker’s health insurance plan.

“So, that’s quite a savings,” Howard said.

The Quit Line is free to Alaskans and can be accessed through phone or online.

“They will talk to anybody that wants to quit,” Howard said. “And because marijuana has a smoke emitted, we also are talking about that, too.”

Although the Great American Smokeout is on Thursday, quit kits are available at Bridges now and at the Dena’ina Wellness Center year-round.

Since 1996, the year before Alaska increased the tobacco tax and two years before the state joined the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, smoking prevalence in Alaska has decreased from about 27 percent to just over 20 percent, which equtes to about 38,700 fewer adult smokers in 2014 according to the Department of Health and Social Services’ Tobacco Facts.

The state also found that Alaska Natives are more likely to be smokers than adults from any other race or ethnicity group.

“It is quite an issue here,” said Gavin Ivanoff, a wellness panel management assistant with the Kenaitze Tribe.

The tribe also offers a weekly support group at the wellness center on Tuesdays, where they pair arts and crafts with education on quitting to keep people’s hands busy.

“We’ll have a booth here for the Smokeout emphasizing the importance of quitting tobacco. We’ll have the free Quit Kits available out in the lobby, but we also emphasize tobacco cessation throughout the whole year.”

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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