Alaska No. 2 in adult smokers despite drop among high school students
CDC REPORT: Youths who puffed before the drop grew up and didn't kick the habit.
Alaska may be winning the tobacco fight among its youths, as a health survey released last fall indicated.
But the Alaska rate of adult cigarette smoking is the second highest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this month.
What's more, in the CDC list of the top five smoking states, Alaska is the only one that's not a tobacco grower.
The report, based on a 2002 survey, says that nearly 30 percent of adult Alaskans smoke cigarettes. The CDC defines smokers as people who said they've smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes and who currently smoke every day or some days.
The U.S. average for states, according to the report, is less than 25 percent.
Kentucky (32.6 percent) was tops on the list, followed by Alaska (29.4), West Virginia (28.4), Tennessee (27.8) and Indiana (27.7).
Kentucky and Tennessee are two of the nation's largest tobacco producers, according to the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee.
Alaska's rank in the CDC report did not much surprise Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, director of the chronic disease program in the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
"It really highlights a big problem we have in Alaska," Eberhart-Phillips said. "I didn't know where we ranked but figured we're up there."
The rate of adult smoking varies from year to year, and if a three-year average were used, the state probably would come in a little lower, he said.
But the rate is still high, Eberhart-Phillips said, and there's no getting around the fact that the state's anti-smoking campaign is not reaching certain sectors of the population.
A decade ago, smoking among Alaska's youths was historically high, Eberhart-Phillips said. Those youngsters are now in their 20s and 30s and still puffing.
The 18- to 24-year-old segment has the highest rate of Alaska smokers. Men in that age group who smoke are 38 percent of their population, according to Eberhart-Phillips.
"Virtually all those adults want to quit," he said. "Thirty percent of the population is shackled."
A health survey taken in spring 2003 and released in November showed that among Alaska's high school students, the rate of smoking had dropped by nearly 50 percent over the previous eight years -- from 37 percent to 19 percent.
The news brought out Gov. Frank Murkowski and other state officials to announce it.
"We made enormous gains with that (demographic) group," Eberhart-Phillips said. "It's a heck of a lot easier to keep people from smoking in the first place than to get them to quit. If you are addicted, you hear the message, you want to quit, but you can't walk away from them."
He sees a different picture with the next 18- to 24-year-old group. That segment (and those who follow) "will work itself through the whole life cycle, and we won't be rid of it for 50 years, but eventually we'll beat it because the smokers will die off."
The CDC reported that more than half of America's adult smokers tried to quit in the year before the survey.
The states where smoking prevalence was lowest were Utah (12.7 percent), California (16.4), Massachusetts (19.0), New Jersey (19.1) and Connecticut (19.5).
When U.S. territories were added to the mix, Alaska dropped to third, behind Guam (32.1 percent), while the U.S. Virgin Islands came in with the only rate below 10 percent (9.5).