Anti-smoking activists dismayed by failing grade

Posted: Wednesday, January 08, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The American Lung Association has given Alaska a failing grade for its efforts to protect its residents from secondhand smoke through smoking bans.

The state also earned a C and two Bs in other areas on the first state-by-state tobacco control report card issued by the national group.

Local anti-smoking activists, even those with the local lung association, were dismayed by the failing grade. They believe the state is on the right track with indoor smoking bans in five communities and more in the works.

The report released Tuesday examines what has happened in the four years since states settled legal claims against tobacco companies for more than $240 billion. It concludes that states have squandered a golden opportunity to save people from disease and death caused by tobacco.

''Far too many states are failing their responsibility to enact laws that would provide funding for tobacco prevention and control programs, protect their citizens from smoke-filled air, deter consumption of cigarettes sold by raising the cigarette tax, and keep cigarettes out of the hands of children and teens,'' the American Lung Association said.

Despite that, Alaska didn't do too bad, said Cassandra Welch, the Washington, D.C.-based director of field advocacy for the lung association. Ten states failed everything.

''You got pretty good grades in everything else,'' Welch said. ''We raised the bar high in all of the areas. It was not too high.''

Alaska activists worry the failing mark may push legislators to enact a statewide ban that is weaker than the local ordinances, said Christie Garbe, executive director of the Alaska chapter of the lung association. Tobacco lobbyists vigorously fight any statewide efforts, she said.

''I just don't understand how we got such a terrible grade here,'' Garbe said.

Anchorage, Juneau, Soldotna, Bethel and Barrow have banned smoking in most workplaces and indoor public places. Other communities are considering bans. The report praises the local efforts.

''I think the momentum has really built,'' said Annette Marley, manager of the Trampling Tobacco project with the Alaska Native Health Board.

Just two states, California and Delaware, got As in this area. Both have strong laws banning indoor smoking and both allow communities to set their own, tougher limits. Forty-three states got Fs.

Alaska got a C on state spending for tobacco control and enforcement. These efforts include advertising campaigns, stop-smoking programs and operations targeting vendors that sell to youths.

The state got a B on taxes. After the Legislature passed a $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes in 1997 after a bitter fight, Alaska had the highest tobacco tax in the nation. Now 10 other states have passed even higher taxes. To get an A, a state needed a tax of $1.23 a pack.

Alaska got a B on youth access to tobacco. Alaska has good laws targeting businesses in this area, the report said.

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