Fifteen percent of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s $2-a-pack tobacco tax will go toward community tobacco cessation or healthcare programs, following a unanimous vote Tuesday by the borough assembly.
That was the original intent of the tax, which passed the Assembly in 2016, and then was ratified by voters that fall. The borough started collecting the tax in 2017 and brought in more than a million dollars the first year.
The other 85 percent of the tax was designated for local schools.
The borough recently put out a request for proposals for the 15 percent, but only got one response. A review team rejected that proposal. As a result, borough staff suggested the entire amount collected from the tobacco tax go to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District.
That way, it was reasoned, the district could spend the money to enhance its own tobacco education and prevention programs.
Various community members, though, say adult smokers need help, too. Mischa Chernick of PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center told the assembly Tuesday that the vast majority of people who try to quit smoking on their own fail.
“Only the most disciplined can quit without any help,” she said. “Studies show that only about 4 to 7 percent do it without any additional help. Research shows that people who participate in a smoking cessation program that provides support and guidance throughout the quitting process can double their chances of quitting smoking.”
Assembly member Alan Bailey proposed a motion to have borough staff bring a proposal back to spend that 15 percent on grants or contracts with nonprofits or other agencies for tobacco services.
Bailey said he would like staff to contact PeaceHealth, the state-run public health office, First City Council on Cancer and other groups to see if they have appropriate projects.
“This proposal identifies health treatment needs caused by effects related to tobacco,” he said. “It could benefit our entire community, and could greatly benefit those seeking medical and/or assistance to try to reduce their tobacco use.”
Bailey’s suggestion was approved in a 7-0 vote.
In other matters, the Assembly approved a motion to increase the spending authority of the school district by about $3.5 million. That increase is due in part to more state funding because the district had more students than anticipated. There was no increase in this year’s local contribution to schools.
Tuesday’s assembly meeting was rescheduled from its regular Monday meeting day because of the Presidents Day holiday.