This week Alaskans joined the Great American Spit Out, a nationwide campaign committed to quitting smokeless tobacco.
The Spit Out is part of Through With Chew Week, a smokeless tobacco-cessation effort running from Feb. 17-23. Tobacco users are encouraged to quit with the support of their peers on Thursday, the official "quit" day.
While approximately 5 percent of American adults use smokeless tobacco, that rate of usage nearly doubles among Alaska Native women -- and it's three times higher than the national average among Alaska Native men.
According to data from the state Department of Health and Social Services (PDF), 21.7 percent of adults in Southwest Alaska use smokeless tobacco. The rest of the state, including Anchorage, averages just under 5 percent.
The same study determined that more Alaskans die annually from the direct effects of tobacco use than from suicide, motor vehicle crashes, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, homicide and HIV/AIDS combined.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is participating in the campaign by distributing information and offering cessation assistance to Natives.
Caroline Nevak, ANTHC's tobacco-free campus coordinator, says for some children the problem starts with iqmik, a combination of chewing tobacco and ash primarily used by Alaska Natives.
"There are stories that when a baby is teething, they will put iqmik to soothe their pain," Nevak said.
Nevak says she quit "cold turkey" when she discovered her gums were receding, and has been tobacco-free for 15 years. The cessation programs offered at ANTHC include nicotine gum, patches, lozenges, and pills as well as a year-long counseling program.
Alaskans who are not eligable for the assistance at ANTHC can seek help quitting any type of tobacco by calling the Alaska Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Contact Nancy Lockwood