Alaska gets an F for smoking ban
Alaska received an F for its efforts to protect residents from secondhand smoke through smoking bans and earned a C and two Bs in other areas on the first state-by-state tobacco control report card by the American Lung Association.
The failing grade dismays local anti-smoking activists, even those with the local lung association, who believe the state is on the right track with indoor smoking bans in five communities and more in the works.
The national State of Tobacco Control: 2002 report released Tuesday examines what has happened in the four years since states settled legal claims against tobacco companies for more than $240 billion.
States have squandered a golden opportunity to save people from disease and death caused by tobacco, the report concludes.
"Far too many states are failing their responsibility to enact laws that would provide funding for tobacco prevention and control programs, protect their citizens from smoke-filled air, deter consumption of cigarettes sold by raising the cigarette tax, and keep cigarettes out of the hands of children and teens," the American Lung Association said.
Despite that, Alaska didn't do too bad, said Cassandra Welch, the Washington, D.C.-based director of field advocacy for the lung association. Ten states failed everything.
"You got pretty good grades in everything else," Welch said. "We raised the bar high in all of the areas. It was not too high."
Alaska activists worry the failing mark may push legislators to enact a statewide ban that is weaker than the local ordinances, said Christie Garbe, executive director of the Alaska chapter of the lung association. Tobacco lobbyists vigorously fight any statewide efforts, she said.
"I just don't understand how we got such a terrible grade here," Garbe said.
Anchorage, Juneau, Soldotna, Bethel and Barrow -- which together account for more than half of the state population -- have banned smoking in most workplaces and indoor public places. Other communities are considering bans. The report praises the local efforts.
"I think the momentum has really built," said Annette Marley, manager of the Trampling Tobacco project with the Alaska Native Health Board.
Just two states, California and Delaware, got As in this area. Both have strong laws banning indoor smoking and both allow communities to set their own, tougher limits. Forty-three states got Fs.
Here's a look at Alaska's other grades:
C on state spending for tobacco control and enforcement. These efforts include advertising campaigns, stop-smoking programs and operations targeting vendors that sell to youths.
The Legislature appropriated $5 million this budget year. To get an A, Alaska must spend the minimum level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or at least $8 million.
"Lung cancer rates are rising in our state," Garbe said. "There is still a lot of work that needs to be done."
About a quarter of Alaska adults smoke, according to a CDC survey.
B on taxes. After the Legislature passed a $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes in 1997 after a bitter fight, Alaska had the highest tobacco tax in the nation. Now 10 other states have passed even higher taxes. To get an A, a state needed a tax of $1.23 a pack.
Anti-smoking activists support higher taxes because as the price rises, people smoke less or quit, kids particularly, Garbe said.
"In as much as Governor Murkowski made a fairly clear statement on raising taxes, I'd have to say that is something we are not going to run out right away and advocate," said his spokesman, John Manly.
B on youth access to tobacco. Alaska has good laws targeting businesses in this area, the report said.
But despite tough laws, kids find it easy to buy tobacco products, said Ed Sasser, tobacco enforcement coordinator with the state Division of Public Health.
In 2002, the state opened 139 cases in which businesses were suspected of selling to kids, a jump from 35 the year before.
Even when clerks ask for identification, they still often sell to underage kids. The legal age to buy tobacco is 19 in Alaska. Some clerks can't do the math to calculate the age, and others intentionally plug incorrect date of birth information into registers, Sasser said.
One idea that some businesses support would require the state to electronically store date of birth information in bar codes on driver's licenses or ID cards. Clerks would swipe the cards. Only sales to people of age would be allowed.