The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
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Smoking is unhealthy. It makes people sick. It kills people. So it makes sense that the Alaska Native Medical Center would ban smoking anywhere in its buildings, on its grounds and in its parking lots. The Tudor Road complex went completely smoke-free last week.
The ban applies to patients and families too. It's not about punishment. It's all about promoting better health.
The organizations that run the hospital and surrounding medical facilities - the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Southcentral Foundation - have 3,300 employees in Anchorage and at other facilities around the state. They treat tens of thousands of people each year. Unfortunately, many of the employees and patients smoke or chew tobacco. The health care providers want to do something to change that.
The tribal health consortium's own research shows more than half of Alaska Native adults smoke or chew. Cancer is the leading cause of death among Alaska Natives, and anything that helps to reduce those grim statistics is good.
Not all employees and patients are going to be happy with the new policy. And there likely will be enforcement problems with the ban on smoking in cars in the parking lots. The rules also say employees can't come to work smelling like cigarettes or have tobacco products showing in their pockets. The health care organizations may want to think some more about the parked car and shirt pocket policies - they seem a whiff too strong.
But the new policy is the right move for a health care facility. And it's a healthy move for thousands of Alaskans.