Some good news this week from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services: smoking rates across the state have declined over the past two decades by about 2.1 percent.
Even better news is the drop in smoking rates among teens — down to 11 percent of high school students in 2013, compared to 37 percent in 1996.
The message to take from the numbers is that the message on the health risks related to smoking is getting across. Fewer young people are starting to smoke, and two-thirds of Alaskans who do smoke are trying to quit — no easy feat.
According to the Health and Social Services numbers, there still are significant disparities in smoking rates among certain demographics, most notable Alaska Natives and lower-income Alaskans, something the department plans to target. And while there has been a decrease in tobacco use among young adults, there has been an uptick in the use of e-cigarettes.
For those interested in quitting, there are resources available. A good place to start is the Peninsula Smokefree Partnership, located at 35911 Kenai Spur Highway No. 9 in Soldotna in the Alaska Maxi Storage Mall, which offers free tobacco quit kits. The Tobacco Quitline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, provides free tobacco cessation support for all those the age of 18 seeking help to quit.
Looking to the future, we hope to see the message about the risks of smoking continue to be shared — and that resources to help smokers quit continue to be available. We want to see the numbers continue to decline, but it takes dedicated staff at health agencies and organizations which rely on government funding to operate. With budgets tight, those organizations will have to prioritize programs, but now is not the time to quit helping people quit.