Story last updated at 4:37 p.m. Thursday, June 13, 2002

Anti-tobacco coalition talks funds in Homer
By R.J. Kelly
Managing Editor

As state officials work to decide how to use the $5 million the Alaska State Legislature has set aside as next year's share of funds stemming from lawsuits against the tobacco industry by a coalition of states, recent discussions in Homer will likely play a major role.

About 50 tobacco control and anti-smoking advocates met during the week of June 2 at the Land's End Resort to discuss budget recommendations and all sorts of efforts to stem the effects of smoking and help prevent people from starting.

Representing a wide coalition of groups and individuals from around the state, the mission of the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance "is to reduce the amount of tobacco use and the harmful effects of tobacco use in Alaska," said alliance spokeswoman Emily Nenon, who works for the American Cancer Society.

Among those taking an active interest in the broad-ranging discussions was Choices for Teens, a Homer group which includes, among a variety of programs to help local youth, a program called "Teens Teaching the Tobacco Truth."

"We offer teens as teachers," said Sabrina Hillstrand, executive director of Choices for Teens. While not directly funded by money from tobacco settlements, a representative of the local group attended the convention at Land's End "to see what other people are doing" in planning ways to reduce tobacco use.

For Choices, "the idea is positive peer pressure" to help teens either quit smoking or not start at all, Hillstrand said Monday.

Considerable emphasis is being placed on television, radio and printed advertising to hammer home the ill effects of tobacco, according to Annette Marley of the Alaska Native Health Board. Studies have found that Alaska Natives have a higher rate of tobacco use and suffer a higher rate of tobacco-related illnesses than the general population, Marley said.

It's unclear how much of the tobacco settlement money will end up aiding Native communities, but various other programs, including the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, have targeted funds for Natives in the Port Graham and Nanwalek areas, she said.

Marley and Nenon were especially pleased that the fiscal year 2003, beginning July 1, marks the first time the state Legislature has appropriated the full 20 percent of tobacco settlement dollars for tobacco-control programs. That proportion is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. In 2002, only $3 million was committed by legislation passed in 2001.

Homer resident Daniel Boone, who said he is working on a contract with Alaska Native Health Board to seek ways to reduce smoking in restaurants and other indoor public spaces, was also an interested observer of the alliance meeting.

"I was there mainly just to learn what was going on with the organization," Boone said.

He was enthusiastic about the variety of alternatives discussed by such a diverse group of people from all over Alaska to reduce smoking <> particularly in public spaces and among youth.

The 10-year-old Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance is a coalition of about 200 organizations and individuals.