Alaska - youth survey suggests tobacco taxes are working..

January 10, 2010 - Alaskans old enough to remember the famous surgeon general's report of 1964 on the hazards of smoking will also remember this: Back then, a pack of cigarettes could be had in most of the U.S. for less than 30 cents.

Even allowing for drastic changes in the value of a dollar or a dime since then, smoking was a deadly but mostly affordable habit.

Not so now. The average price of a pack of 20 cigarettes in Alaska is $6.85, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. That should take your breath away before you ever light up.

Apparently, it does. The 2009 Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that only 5 percent of high school students reported smoking cigarettes in 20 of the last 30 days. In 1995, 21 percent said they had. The survey was conducted by the state Department of Health and Social Services. It asked 1,400 students in 43 Alaska high schools to answer health-related questions anonymously. Questions varied from using cocaine to wearing bicycle helmets to eating fruit.

Alaskans have a strong anti-tax streak, but not when it comes to tobacco. The state levies a $2-a-pack tax, and the city of Anchorage tacks on $1.45, making Anchorage the fifth-highest cigarette taxing jurisdiction in the United States. Barrow, the Mat-Su Borough, Sitka and Juneau are four of five jurisdictions tied for eighth, at $3 per pack in combined state and local taxes.

Since the 1990s, one of the most powerful arguments Alaskans have used to raise cigarette and other tobacco taxes has been simply that high prices discourage smoking and dipping by young people. If they don't start young, they don't get addicted -- and chances are good they never start at all.

At $6.85 a pack, young Alaskans may well be deciding they have better things to do with their money than buy coffin nails.

Smokers -- and even some who don't smoke -- have complained that smokers are being singled out for taxes. Yes, they are. They also complain that they're an easy tax target because they're a minority. Yes, they are.

That's because tobacco is a product that when used as intended kills, cripples and aggravates people. It's addictive, which multiplies its killing, crippling and aggravating power. Legal though lethal, tobacco use has earned its tax burden -- and even at that, rarely covers the $10.28-per-pack cost in disease infliction estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tobacco control people don't claim tax-driven prices are the sole reason Alaska high school students are smoking less. But Alaskans old enough to remember the surgeon general's report of 1964 remember when the addiction was cheap and easy. Better to price our kids out of that market.

Reference: Our view: Less smoke High tax on packs puts wall between kids and addiction, Anchorage Daily News, 1/8/2010; ; Alaska high schoolers smoking, drinking less, survey shows Number of high schoolers lighting up is down 75 percent from 15 years ago by MEGAN HOLLAND (, Anchorage Daily News, 1/8/2010.

Related Alaska news briefs:
Nunavut Territory - highest rate of smoking in Canada..;
Juneau, Alaska - voters say yes to raising tobacco taxes..;
State Representative concerned tobacco companies targeting our young with SNUS..;
Times are Tough Save Money Quit Smoking..;
Let's have fire-safe cigarettes mandatory for all 50 States - it's a NO - Brainer..;
As of 7/1/2007 Smokers in five states will take a hit to their wallets as the tax increases.

The Alaska Native Health Board (ANHB), established in 1968, is recognized as the statewide voice on Alaska Native health issues. The purpose of the Alaska Native Health Board is to promote the spiritual, physical, mental, social, and cultural well-being and pride of Alaska Native people.