Nicotine use is not merely an inconvenient habit — it is a powerful addiction which kills 500 Alaskans prematurely and costs Alaskan tax payers $539 million every year.
The two most effective ways to reduce tobacco consumption and youth initiation are comprehensive policies, namely smoke-free policies in schools and workplaces, and increases in tobacco taxes.
The University of Alaska Southeast should be commended for supporting the adoption of a tobacco-free campus policy. In addition to creating a healthier, smoke-free environment, the policy will reduce cigarette butt litter and the university’s maintenance costs.
Smoking on campus is a safety issue. If there was a pit in the middle of campus and 32 percent of the students fell in and half of those died decades prematurely due to their injuries, we wouldn’t suggest that “they have to make their own mistakes.” We would fence off the hole.
Juneau currently has a youth smoking rate of 9 percent, which is lower than the national average. It’s a huge win for the state which is rarely on the right side of these statistics. However, the smoking rate for those ages 18-29 jumps to 32 percent, which is the highest rate for any age group. Most of this increase is due to the tobacco industry spending $1 million an hour in advertising targeting this age group, using messages of freedom and rebellion crafted especially for young adults.
This age group is hip, trendsetting and adventurous early-adopters. The tobacco industry knows that if you can hook young adults, they will do the dirty work for them by using their cachet to make this deadly addiction look cool.
This age group is also notorious for their invincibility complex. They are convinced that they will quit smoking before they get sick. Smoking won’t hurt them. Two out of three of them will continue smoking into adulthood and half of those will die prematurely.
The university should be an environment that prepares its students for success on and off its campus. Many of the state’s major employers won’t hire smokers, including Alaska Airlines and Providence Hospital. Vigor Industries, the shipyard in Ketchikan, will not allow smoking anywhere on its 17-acre campus. Even some fishermen and construction companies are prohibiting smoking on their vessels and work sites.
UAS should aspire to promote healthy life choices and success for students by passing and implementing a smoke and tobacco-free campus policy.
• Kristin Cox lives in Juneau and is a naturopathic doctor and tobacco prevention and control specialist for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.