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SEARHC Commends Hoonah City Council for Protecting Young People with Tobacco-Free Parks

JUNEAU – SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) applauds the Hoonah City Council for voting in favor of making the Parks and Recreation Department properties tobacco-free, and in doing so voted to protect the health of young people living in the community.

On June 8, an interim smoke-free policy at the K’eidladee Park went into effect while the department-wide tobacco-free policy is in development. The new policy prohibits the use of tobacco in any form inside buildings and on any property owned or leased by Hoonah City Parks and Recreation.

SEARHC would like to acknowledge and thank the Hoonah Parks and Recreation Committee, Youth Center, Hoonah Indian Association (HIA), and the Partnership for a Tobacco Free Southeast, who supported this initiative and brought it to the City Council for consideration.

“We are so proud of Hoonah for taking this brave step in eliminating tobacco from all of its properties,” said SEARHC Vice President of Executive Administration, Leatha Merculieff. She added, “The long-term effect on the community’s health, and especially the health of its young people is likely immeasurable.”

Hoonah City Council members supported this policy because of their shared belief that tobacco use in park areas harms the health of everyone who uses these public services. Children’s exposure to secondhand smoke and cigarette litter were top concerns. They also feel the tobacco-free policy helps establish new community norms around tobacco use and will help reduce its use among young people. Supporters hope to see the final policy take effect as soon as possible.

 “Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease statewide and locally. In Southeast, 36% of Alaska Native adults and 17% of Non-Native adults report current tobacco use (2015). By adopting this policy, the community of Hoonah sets a higher standard of health for future generations, and demonstrates that tobacco use and secondhand aren’t the norm,” said Jessica Voeller, HIA Tobacco Prevention and Control Coordinator.

Council member Amelia Wilson supports the tobacco-free policy because it now complements the Hoonah City School district tobacco-free grounds policy. “The City of Hoonah policy will create a consistent tobacco-free policy among all the recreational spaces in our community, which eliminates confusion.”

The Partnership for a Tobacco Free Southeast, SEARHC, and HIA tobacco prevention coordinators are assisting policy development by providing the evidence base for effective public health policy. They will work with city officials to communicate the new policy, including posting signage and distributing tobacco prevention information to youth leaders and parents. The first line of enforcement of the policy includes adequate signage and community awareness measures.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hoonah and the Hoonah Fun & Fit Partnership cherish the children of our community. We provide role models and healthy activities to nurture their development. Having a smoke free K’eidladee Park is a step in the right direction for our First Class City.” Sally Dybdahl, BBBS Community Director & volunteer.

“Our goal is to demonstrate to youth that tobacco use is not a part of a healthy lifestyle. We believe this policy can play a part in reducing tobacco use in our community, and ultimately save lives,” said Candy Keown, Social Services Director at HIA, and Representative for HIA with Fun and Fit.

In a trend across the region, other organizations are taking significant steps towards achieving a tobacco-free future generation. Earlier this year, Wrangell Parks and Recreation Department went smoke-free, and Pelican School District adopted a Gold Star tobacco-free policy, making nearly all districts in Southeast tobacco or smoke-free.

In the last two years, communities and tribes across the state have taken effective action in tobacco prevention to improve the health and well-being of Alaskans. Ketchikan, Hoonah, Sitka have all voted to increase taxes on tobacco products. Hoonah Indian Association updated their tobacco-free resolution to include e-cigarettes., and Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Angoon Community Association each adopted resolutions, adding to the 139 of 229 Alaska’s federally recognized tribes with smoke- or tobacco-free resolutions to date.

Those interested in information about tobacco prevention policy assistance in their community, school, workplace, or parks are encouraged to email tobacco@searhc.org or visit the Partnership for a Tobacco Free Southeast’s Facebook page.