SANTA FE, N.M. – A new report shows big differences across the country in terms of who smokes cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found much higher rates among Native Americans, and tribal advocates say in order to work in this population, cessation efforts need to acknowledge the cultural history of tobacco.
Dr. Brian King, deputy director for research translation for the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health said the study found the smoking rate among Native Americans is the highest overall, at 39 percent. King said the data collected will help health officials when they’re designing anti-tobacco programs and campaigns.
“An example of that is, CDC’s ‘Tips from Former Smokers’ campaign, which is aired on television, where we warn people about the dangers of smoking,” he said. “And those can be targeted to specific populations, such as American Indians or Alaska Natives.”
Native American advocates say the study points to the need for an entirely different approach to smoking cessation for indigenous people, because tobacco has been part of their culture for centuries. More than 250,000 Native Americans live in Arizona, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Assistant professor LaDonna Blue Eyes at Indiana University has authored several reports on the health issues in Native American communities. She said traditional smoking-cessation efforts aren’t working, because they aren’t addressing tribal history and culture.
“If someone is smoking cigarette after cigarette, that’s abusing tobacco,” she said. “So, we’re really trying to teach our indigenous people that tobacco is sacred, and trying to re-teach this population part of our history. One of the taglines is, ‘Traditional use, not abuse.'”
She said to be successful, anti-smoking efforts shouldn’t label tobacco as evil.
“Traditional use also includes giving tobacco as a gift,” she added. “Tobacco might be placed on a fire; it’s not always ingested. I think the important thing is to remember that tobacco is sacred, and to really work with our population to get back to the real meaning of tobacco.”
She acknowledges that government-sponsored tobacco education programs are necessary, but said they need to be tweaked to include the culture and heritage of Native Americans.
The full report can be read here.