School program spreads blunt facts about smoking
Armed with new information about tobacco's harmful effects and a bag full of props, Alex Hahn, Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation's Health Educator/Tobacco Prevention Coordinator taught the latest facts about smokeless tobacco to middle and high school students at Manokotak Nunaniq School this week.
With technology comes more ways to ingest tobacco. "The program is getting extensive," Nunaniq Assistant Principal Dana Bartman said. "There was a lot of new information. We hadn't learned about the hookah and the e-cigarettes until today."
Sharing blunt facts about tobacco in a straightforward manner, Hahn easily kept the attention of the students. "It's a decision that only you can make and you will have to deal with consequences. Making healthy choices for yourself and deciding what's best for your growing body is key. Only you can make these choices," she said.
"The addictive chemical in tobacco products is nicotine. Once you are addicted to a product, you will probably always be addicted to it," Hahn, a 20-something student herself said. "There are lots of different types of smokeless tobacco and being able to recognize it will help you make healthy choices for your own body."
Science teacher Kirk Kofford recognized the message that students should be aware of nicotine. "I was surprised to learn that nicotine is as addictive as heroin."
Tobacco is not indigenous to Alaska. First introduced as a trade product, tobacco can now be cultivated with the help of technology in Alaska's less hospitable climate.
The difference among smokeless tobaccos is potency and longevity. Locally mixed Blackbull, also known as iq'mik in Southwestern Alaska is punk ash (kumakaq), a fungus that grows on birch trees in an ash form (araq) added to tobacco to make a chew. Due to its pH level, the mixture is strong and addictive because it allows more nicotine into the user's system.
Hahn explained that snus is pasteurized and sold by the can. "Snus is finely ground tobacco that is placed behind the upper lip," she said.
Chemicals from pasteurization transfer to the users in the case of tobacco.
Snuff, a finely ground tobacco, is dry and inhaled through the nose. "Snuff will inhibit the sense of smell and damage the nasal passages," Hahn said.
Dip is a common form of smokeless tobacco and comes in a can, as little strips, in pouches or finely ground. The dip sits in the mouth and causes salivation. Users can swallow the tobacco, which may cause stomach issues.
Like dip, chew comes in the same forms, with the exception of added sugar.
Freshman James Tikiun said, "the talk was good because it let the students here know about the dangers of tobacco and it gave us reasons to not use especially if we are in sports. I think it scared some students enough to keep them from trying."
Hahn, who is working on a bachelor's degree in rural development, enjoys the adventure that speaking in rural villages brings. "My favorite thing about my job is the traveling," she said. " I love coming into the schools and being able to see a lot of Alaska."
Hahn first traveled to Alaska to visit her mother who, at the time, worked as a nurse in Dillingham. "I love Dillingham and all its outdoor opportunities. I bought a snow machine and never left," she said.
Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation offers free services to those interested in quitting tobacco. Contact the Tobacco Cessation Program at 907-842-9547 or 800-478-5201, ext. 6547. Alaska's Tobacco Quit Line is 800 QUIT-NOW, 800-784-8669.