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Tobacco-Free Alaska > Community Spotlight > January 2017

January 2017 Community Spotlight: Barrow Whalers Tackle Tobacco

Tackle Tobacco like a Barrow Whaler

Utqiagvik, Alaska - Utqiagvik, formally known as Barrow, is at the top of the world. Located on the Chukchi Sea it is the northernmost city in the United States. Despite its location Utqiagvik is the largest city in the North Slope Borough, with a population of almost 4,500 people. Roughly 61% are Iñupiat Eskimo.[1] 


Utqiagvik is a rural community with a beautiful blend of modern and traditional cultures. Although the city has modern amenities such as hotels and a dry cleaner and even has a new fast food restaurant in the works, many residents still rely on subsistence hunting, fishing, and whaling for their main food source and cultural ways. The Iñupiat Heritage Center, part of the North Slope Borough, supports this way of life by providing a place to work on arts and crafts, room to construct or repair traditional whaling boats or other essential tools, and promote local education and history. This continued reliance on a subsistence lifestyle and the emphasis on traditional values are what give the Iñupiat culture continued strength, meaning, and purpose.


The Borough Health Department provides a Tobacco Prevention and Control (TPC) program across the North Slope. NSB covers an astounding 95,000 square miles and serves the rural communities of Atqasuk, Wainwright, Point Hope, Kaktovik, Point Lay, Anaktuvuk Pass, Nuiqsut, and Utqiagvik /Barrow.[2] Aligned with their mission to “promote the health and well-being of North Slope residents in a culturally appropriate manner” the NSB TPC program partnered with the Barrow Whalers, the local high school football team, to tackle tobacco use in Utqiagvik youth.

Although teen tobacco use has declined in recent years to an eleven percent (11%) smoking rate among high school student in Alaska. Alaska Native high school students- both girls and boys- are significantly more likely to smoke than non-native students.[3] The Whaler’s football team wants to continue to reduce those statistics and bring a message of healthy living through a tobacco free lifestyle to adults and children across the Slope. The football team sported “Barrow Whalers Tackle Tobacco” shirts to games and participated in a media campaign to spread the message that tobacco use is harmful, especially to youth.

“We taught our football players that putting tobacco in your body will limit their athletic ability to do their best on the field. Also, we want our players to be a role model in the community.” said Chris Battle, head football coach for the Barrow Whaler Football Team.

This message caught on and the football team is just the first of the Tobacco Champions of Barrow High School. The men and women’s whaler basketball teams are continuing to reinforce this message by sporting tobacco prevention shirts, being a positive and healthy role model to the community, and also participating in a media campaign.

North Slope Borough’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program is committed to implementing proven methods to prevent youth initiation of tobacco use by partnering with youth, increasing the cost of cigarettes and other tobacco products, and providing education and promotion of cessation support for the entire community. NSB is working to enact a Clean Air Policy for its own organization and continues work to promote a North Slope wide tobacco free policy.


  1. Shepro, Maas, & Callaway (2010). North Slope Borough 2010 Economic Profile and Census Report. Retrieved from North Slope Borough 2010 Economic Profile and Census Report.
  2. North Slope Borough (2016). Official Website of the North Slope Borough. Retrieved from
  3. State of Alaska (2016). Alaska Tobacco Facts 2015 Update. Retrieved from Alaska Tobacco Facts 2015.