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Alaska: Trampling tobacco
  1. The Alaska Tobacco Free Iditarod Project, Alaska Native Health Board, 4201 Tudor Centre Drive, Suite 105, Anchorage, Alaska 99508, USA; mlanier{at}

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    The Trampling Tobacco Project aims to reduce tobacco use and related death and disease in Alaska, United States. The Alaska Native Health Board (ANHB) implemented the Trampling Tobacco Project on behalf of the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), a statewide coalition, and the project is funded by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation SmokeLess States grant. The key components include policy, technical assistance, and youth education, which the staff provides through training, materials, and mini-grants to local organisations and communities.

    The programme title “Trampling Tobacco” was based on an Iditarod theme–the Iditarod is a sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, a distance of approximately 1100 miles (1770 kilometres) over treacherous terrain. In keeping with the purpose of the first Iditarod, which brought life-saving diphtheria serum to Nome, the race in recent years has been used to raise public awareness about modern health plagues including alcohol abuse, AIDS, and now tobacco use.

    Smoking and smokeless tobacco use rates in Alaska are among the highest in the United States. The problem is particularly severe among Alaska Natives (indigenous peoples), as detailed in the 1998 report of the United States Surgeon General (see Tobacco Control1998;7:198–209). Nearly half of Alaska Native adults use tobacco. It is not uncommon for pre-school age children to become addicted to smokeless tobacco, which is sometimes given to teething babies.

    The educational component of Trampling Tobacco was the Iditarod Tobacco Free Project. The target population was young people, particularly in rural Alaska, including Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts.

    Ramy Brooks, a promising young dog musher (as the driver of a dog team is known in Alaska), was chosen to act as a spokesperson and role model for the project. Brooks is the son, grandson, and great-grandson of famous Athabascan and Eskimo dog mushers, who continues a family legacy each time he races. His motto is, “The 1100 mile race to Nome takes everything the dogs and I have got. I’m glad to be tobacco free!” Brooks has finished the Iditarod in the top 20 positions during each year of the Iditarod Tobacco Free Project.

    During the 1994–1998 races, Brooks spoke with reporters about the project and recorded radio and television advertisements for statewide broadcast. His image has also appeared on anti-tobacco posters and trading cards. Brooks is Alaska’s healthy counter-image to the Marlboro Man. While the Marlboro Man’s goal is to lure young people into smoking, Ramy is the real-life hero who models good health by being tobacco-free and finishing among the top mushers in the Iditarod Race.

    Alaska’s Ramy Brooks an accomplished “dog musher”, is the spokesperson for the Iditarod tobacco free project.

    Ramy and his lead dog, Bruce, have visited many schools statewide and talked with young people about the dangers of tobacco. In his presentations, he emphasised that to be a top athlete you must be tobacco-free. After all, as Ramy points out, his dogs don’t use tobacco! As a result of the publicity, Ramy has received posters, cards, and letters from youngsters across the country showing their appreciation and excitement.

    The primary component of the Iditarod Tobacco-Free Project is a tobacco prevention curriculum for fifth and sixth graders (10–12 years old) that has been continually modified and expanded. In 1997, a board game was developed to use in conjunction with the curriculum. Nearly 700 schools statewide were notified by mail of the Iditarod Tobacco-Free Curriculum. Teachers who requested it were sent the packet to implement during the Iditarod.

    Based on feedback from teachers who implemented the curriculum and community members who participated in the Iditarod project, the impact was positive. This was especially true for the young people who live in the villages and towns that serve as checkpoints along the Iditarod trail. In each of the checkpoint locations, youngsters became involved in direct tobacco prevention activities and supported Ramy as he competed tobacco-free in the Iditarod Race.