The Juneau assembly will meet Monday, Aug. 25, to hear public comment on increasing tobacco tax. If passed, Juneau tobacco tax would be raised to the same level that Anchorage residents are paying. The money is expected to help meet the shortfall in funds for community health programs. While the Assembly has not been specific, there was a loss of all prevention programs (not just tobacco prevention) in Juneau schools except one in middle school. We know prevention efforts that teach young people about the dangers of all drugs, including alcohol and smoking, pay off big in preventing health and learning problems created by drug abuse and results in actual lives saved.
In 1999, Alaska Department of Health & Social Services found 39 percent of all high school students surveyed grades 9-12 reported they had used tobacco in some form on one or more days. For middle school it is 21 percent. For Native high school students, the figure goes to 59 percent. For middle school Native students the figure is 29 percent. Refer to their Goals 2010 study, which may be found online. Another study showed that when tobacco taxes increase, there is a dramatic drop in youth smoking. It apparently hasn't dropped enough to keep some JDHS students from hiding out at the federal building bus stop during lunch time to grab a quick smoke, even though it isn't a legal activity, because I witnessed a whole group doing it last school year!
Not discussed very often is the other cost of tobacco. It is an expensive, addictive habit, which drains finances from people who will continue paying with increasing health problems. The devastation of cancer and heart disease among people who likely made tobacco, with its addictive nature, a priority over health insurance and long-term care lands right in the lap of the people - that's us - who pay for their care in the end. On top of that with tobacco use by expectant mothers, and around children after birth, we have many more children who need extra help in school and medically. It all falls back on you and me, i.e. the city and state, to cover some of the costs. A tobacco tax only makes it a little more fair for all of us, and perhaps may prevent some kids from getting started. Children who get through high school without smoking seldom ever start. Think about your priorities.
Perhaps you would like to participate in the Juneau Empire's Web survey on the tobacco tax issue, or better, also mail or e-mail your mayor on this issue: Sally_Smith@ci.juneau.ak.us. Then show up and say your bit Monday night.
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