Tobacco Prevention

Tobacco is a sacred plant in many Native American cultures and is used in traditional activities. National and state tobacco prevention and control programs recognize the importance of tobacco products to Native American culture; however the “Keep it Sacred, Not Abuse” tagline does not apply to the Alaskan Native population.

Prevention Efforts

Alaska Natives became addicted to the product, and today, Alaska Natives have a smoking use rate of 43%, which is nearly double the use rate for Non-Natives. As a result, Alaska Natives have increasing mortality rates. It was recently reported by Alaska Tobacco Prevention and Control that roughly 500 Alaskans succumb to tobacco related illnesses each year, with an additional 120 individuals dying from secondhand smoke related illnesses.

In response to the decrease in cigarette sales during the last decade, and to combat prevention efforts, the tobacco industry has begun creatively marketing new types of smokeless tobacco products.

The need to promote tobacco education and cessation among the Alaska Native population is important to reducing the use and mortality rates within our beautiful state.

We are working to educate our people, helping communities develop coalitions and tobacco policy, and encouraging cessation among the Alaska Native population in order to reduce the use and mortality rates within our region.

Tobacco products include:

    • Cigarettes
    • Cigars
    • Pipe tobacco
    • Chew
    • Snuff and dip tobacco
    • Water pipes (hookah)
    • Electronic cigarettes
    • Herbs
    • Dedigus (Athabascan term for home-made tobacco product which consists of tobacco mixed with ash)
    • Iqmik (Yupik term for home-made tobacco product which consists of tobacco mixed with ash)
    • Tobacco-less cigarettes or like products

Smokeless Tobacco

The National Cancer Institute has an excellent page dedicated to smokeless tobacco.

Smokeless tobacco is consumed by placing tobacco between the gums and cheek.  All tobacco products are harmful and cause cancer.  There is no safe level of tobacco use. Smokeless tobacco has many health risks including the following:

      • 28 cancer causing carcinogens
      • Increased risk for various cancers
      • Esophageal
      • Pancreatic
      • Oral
      • Laryngeal

Secondhand smoke

Secondhand is any type of smoke coming from the lit end of a cigarette, cigar, or tobacco pipe.  It has been shown to have almost the same amount of cancer causing carcinogens as the smoke being inhaled by a smoker. Out of the 4000 known chemicals in tobacco smoke, 69 are cancer causing.  Additionally:

      • Three out of the five leading causes of death in the Doyon region between the years 2004-2009 can be contributed to tobacco use, accounting for 48% of the deaths.
      • Infants who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at a greater risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
      • Infants and children are at risk for the development of many respiratory problems, including asthma, increased risk for bronchitis, pneumonia, and ear infections.
      • Known to cause various types of cancer (esophageal, lung, and laryngeal).
      • Increases the risk for stroke by up to 80%.
      • Increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Secondhand smoke exposure is a leading cause of preventable death, and causes disease, including heart disease in healthy nonsmokers.  Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at work or at home increase their heart disease risk by 25–30% and their lung cancer risk by 20–30%.

Even smoking outside doesn’t protect our loved ones from secondhand smoke.  By sitting at an outdoor table for an hour with a smoker who smokes 2 cigarettes during the hour, one could be exposed to a level of secondhand smoke greater than that caused by being in a smoky tavern for an hour according to Exposure Science. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke—air ventilation systems  do not work—only completely smokefree environments can protect our health.

      • 120 Alaskans die each year from exposure to secondhand smoke.
      • A significant amount of secondhand smoke exposure for Alaska Natives occurs in the workplace.  Even short exposures may result in serious adverse health effects and death.
      • Separated smoking rooms and ventilation absolutely do not work in protecting people from secondhand smoke.  Smoke continues to filter through the air, exposing non-smokers to secondhand smoke.

In Southeast Alaska, local natives were cultivating the plant and using it as a medicinal plant rather than smoking or chewing it. Upon the introduction of commercial tobacco, the local people began to quit growing the plant, causing it to become extinct.

Commercial tobacco products were introduced to Alaska Natives when exploration of Alaska began in 1741 by Vitus Bering. Bering gifted Alaska Natives on Kayak Island with a Chinese pipe and 1 pound of tobacco products.  It was noted by Georg Stellar that the local natives “could not have known the use of the pipe or tobacco.” Against Stellar’s approval, Lt. Waxel, another member of the crew, lit the tobacco pipe and showed the natives how to use it.  By the year 1745, tobacco was used as a means to get Alaska Native people to hunt and provide for the new settlers.

At one point, Alaska Native people on the Norton Sound traded 400 pounds of caribou meat for 4 pounds of tobacco leaves. It was noted by early settlers that tobacco was used as a way to procure certain items such as workers and women.

Eventually, Alaska Native people would begin to see that their dependence on tobacco was a burden on the people in their communities. In the early 1800’s, the Koniag began to see that tobacco was not in their best interest, and even went as far as to “curse” the Russians for introducing the product to them.

Information provided by: Fortuine, Robert. “Tobacco History in Alaska.” ATCA Summit: Presentation Slides. 31 May 2012. Lecture

    • Alaskan Natives are twice as likely to smoke tobacco than Non-natives.
    • Roughly 60% of Alaskan Natives within the TCC region do not smoke,
    • 23% of all smoking related deaths in Alaska are Alaskan Natives (490 per year).
    • 120 people die each year from secondhand smoke related illnesses
    • One non-smoker dies from secondhand smoke exposure for every 8 smokers who die from smoking related diseases.
    • There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke; it is dangerous at all times.
    • Secondhand smoke damages the blood vessels in your body putting you at a higher risk for clotting, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
    • Exposure to secondhand smoke increases a non-smoker’s chance of getting lung cancer by up to 30%

A strong tobacco policy can encourage tobacco users to quit, and can save lives.  Policies for smokefree air have been proven to reduce the number of smokers and exposure to secondhand smoke.  More Alaskans die annually from the effects of tobacco use than from suicide, motor vehicle crashes, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, homicide, and HIV/AIDS, combined.  Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable death and disease.  Alaskans suffer health consequences from tobacco use, including heart disease and cancer.

    • Three out of the five leading causes of death in the Doyon region between the years 2004-2009 can be contributed to tobacco use, accounting for 48% of the deaths.
    • Alaska Native people have the highest rate of tobacco use in the state of Alaska.
    • 23% of smoking related deaths in Alaska are of Alaska Natives—about 490 deaths per year.  The majority of Alaskan adults who currently smoke want to quit.
    • Tobacco use increases the risk for stroke by up to 80%.
    • Tobacco use increases risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
    • Smoking among high school students has dropped nearly half from 1995 to 2007.
    • Contrary to popular belief, smokefree policies in business are good for business according to the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance. There are more non-smokers than there are smokers, and 7 out of 10 smokers think smoking should be prohibited in Alaska workplaces.

It is the policy of TCC to comply with all applicable federal, state and local regulations regarding smoking in the workplace and to provide a work environment that promotes productivity and the well being of its employees.

Prohibitions. TCC recognizes that smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco in the workplace can adversely affect employees. Accordingly, smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco are prohibited at all times and at all TCC facilities and in TCC vehicles. In addition, smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco are prohibited at all TCC sponsored functions.

Smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco outside a TCC facility is permitted except where restricted by conditions of lease. Smoking outside of TCC facilities will be permitted only in those locations where smoke contaminated air cannot enter the smoke free TCC facility.  The smoking and use of smokeless tobacco policy applies to employees, customers and visitors at all times while on TCC premises.

Complaints about smoking issues should be resolved at the lowest level possible, but may be processed through TCC’s grievance procedure. Employees who violate the policy will be subject to disciplinary action.

Non-discrimination. TCC does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of their use of legal products, such as tobacco, if the use occurs during nonworking time and off of TCC’s premises.

In Your Community

    • Encourage businesses to prohibit cigarette use within 50 feet of entrances and or/windows, and to post appropriate signage.
    • Talk to your community leaders about creating policies to make public properties smokefree (i.e. Store properties, community halls, ball fields)
    • When talking to your leaders, bring with you notes to help keep your meeting on track and to ensure that all of the important issues surrounding tobacco use are discussed.

At Work

    • Encourage your employer to prohibit tobacco use by anyone at anytime in your workplace, in work-owned vehicles, and at work-sponsored indoor or outdoor events;

Individual Steps

    • Promote smoking outside of your home and in designated smoking areas away from all main entrances.
    • Encourage smokers to fill out the Smokefree Home and Car Pledge to reduce nonsmoker’s exposure secondhand smoke in homes and vehicles.
    • Do not allow friends and family to smoke in your car or home.
    • Keep yourself and your children away from areas where smoking is allowed.
    • Provide tobacco cessation education along with Quitline information or the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center Cessation Counselor information.
    • Advocating for a community smokefree policy.
    • Select a tobacco topic you wish to address in relation to tobacco free policies and write a letter to the newspaper editor or post it on your blog or social media page.
    • Address your problem with the current lack of tobacco free policies.
    • Keep it short and to the point—do not flood your letter with too much information. It will be overlooked.

Start a Petition

    • Title your petition, which includes a letter of intent.
    • Include in your letter of intent a description of why you are starting a petition.
    • Include a sample resolution or policy with the letter of intent to present your facts and statistics to justify a change.
    • The signature area should have categories for name, signature, date, address, email, and phone number if the supporter is willing.
    • The more support you have for a policy or resolution, the more likely it is to pass or to be considered.
    • Talk with your tribal leaders about the following tobacco resolutions:


I ACT Free Coalition

Become a member of the I ACT Free Coalition to work with others in our region and in our communities who share a vision of a tobacco free Interior.

By joining the I ACT Free Coalition and becoming a member you will help prevent unnecessary illnesses due to tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure. Members have the opportunity to help educate the general public, tobacco users, cancer survivors, youth and future advocates on the dangers of tobacco use. They will also be invited to help create a behavior change in their community and to influence others to become supporters of a tobacco free interior. Members will receive copies of the meeting minutes (they will not be available online) and any updates on current work within the community.


  • Social Networking – The Social Network work group will work on Coalition media efforts.
  • Youth – The Youth work group works on engaging youth in tobacco prevention efforts and on preventing youth tobacco initiation.
  • Secondhand Smoke – The Secondhand Smoke work group educates the public about the dangers of secondhand smoke and work toward reducing secondhand smoke exposure.
  • Cessation – The Cessation work group promotes cessation services available to tobacco users.
  • Membership – The Membership work group recruits Coalition members, reviews membership applications, and works with new members to engage them in the Coalition.

There is a lot you can do to reduce secondhand smoke exposure:

  • Encourage your favorite restaurant or business to go smokefree.
  • Work with businesses to support smokefree workplaces.
  • Promote businesses that are already smokefree.
  • Participate in activities and events to create awareness.
  • Do something meaningful for the community, help save lives, and connect with other people fi­ghting for the same cause.


  • Social Networking -works on Coalition media efforts.
  • Youth – engages youth in tobacco prevention efforts and on preventing youth tobacco initiation.
  • Secondhand Smoke – educates the public and reduces secondhand smoke exposure.
  • Cessation – promotes cessation services.
  • Membership – recruits Coalition members, reviews membership applications, and works with new members to engage them in the Coalition.

Apply to become a member (PDF 73KB) of our coalition today!