What others say: Alaskans and smoking

  • Monday, October 31, 2016 8:38pm
  • Opinion

Pop quiz: What causes more deaths in Alaska than car crashes, murders, suicides and AIDS combined?

Researchers from the American Cancer Society have some bad news for Alaskans: We’re still smoking too much — and it’s killing us.

Alaska is No. 6 in the country in percentage of cancer deaths attributable to cigarette smoking, according to a new study published in an affiliate of the Journal of the American Medical Association. That’s according to 2014 figures, looking at all cancer deaths for the year for people 35 and older. When it’s broken down by gender, Alaska women are No. 2 in the country in percentage of cancer deaths attributable to cigarette smoking, with 27.5 percent. Alaska men have 34.3 percent of cancer deaths related to cigarettes, good for No. 18 in the country. In all, 31.4 percent of cancer deaths in Alaska were tied to cigarettes.

What do those numbers mean?

According to the researchers, it means that roughly 300 people a year in Alaska are dying when they don’t have to. That’s a lot of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandfathers and grandmothers.

When broadened beyond cigarettes, the toll increases. Almost 600 Alaskans died from tobacco-related ailments in 2011, according to a report affiliated with Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Put in more dramatic terms, that means that tobacco use killed more people in Alaska than “suicide, motor vehicle crashes, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, homicide, HIV/AIDS and influenza combined,” according to the report.

The same report found that tobacco use cost people in the state $563 million in medical expenses and lost productivity, not including the people who develop issues from second-hand smoke.

In general, researchers from the American Cancer Society found more cigarette-related deaths in the South, with two exceptions: Nevada and Alaska. Nevada, they said, is one of the few states that allows smoking in bars. In Alaska, it gets a little tricky: Individual cities such as Anchorage have banned smoking in bars, but there is no state law. In March, the state Senate passed SB 1, which would have eliminated smoking in bars and restaurants. The bill moved to the House, but didn’t move forward during that session.

Outside factors and laws aside, we are all responsible for our own health. Over time, the costs of tobacco use are wide-ranging and severe. Resources for people interested in quitting can be found at http://alaskaquitline.com.

— Ketchikan Daily News, Oct. 31, 2016

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