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CDC Study Shows Higher Tobacco Use among Native Americans

Tribal advocates say a new study from the CDC could help create more culturally-sensitive anti-smoking efforts. (iStockphoto)
Tribal advocates say a new study from the CDC could help create more culturally-sensitive anti-smoking efforts. (iStockphoto)
August 10, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said some racial and ethnic groups have much higher smoking rates than others, and health officials hope to use that information in cessation efforts.

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.

"So, 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 also 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.

LaDonna Blue Eyes, assistant professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, 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. "And 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 acknowledged that government-sponsored tobacco education programs are necessary, but said they need to be tweaked to include the culture and heritage of Native Americans.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND