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Study Shows Higher Tobacco Use among Tribes

New data from the CDC could help anti-tobacco efforts target different ethnic and cultural groups. (CDC)
New data from the CDC could help anti-tobacco efforts target different ethnic and cultural groups. (CDC)
August 10, 2016

Pierre, SD - 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. Comments from Brian King, deputy director for research translation for the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health; and LaDonna Blue Eyes, assistant professor at Indiana University Bloomington.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 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 with the C-D-C says the study found the smoking rate among Native Americans is the highest overall, at 39 percent. King says the data collected will help health officials when they're designing anti-tobacco programs and campaigns.

"So, example of that is, like, CDC's 'Tips from Former Smokers' campaign, which is aired on television, where we warn people about the dangers of smoking. 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, has authored several reports on the health issues in Native American communities. She says 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. 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 says to be successful, anti-smoking efforts shouldn't label tobacco as evil.

"Traditional use also includes giving tobacco as a gift. 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 says they need to be tweaked to include the culture and heritage of Native Americans.

A new report finds big differences in who smokes in the U-S based on race and ethnicity, and health officials hope the data will help them focus their cessation efforts. But, as Brandon Campbell tells us, advocates say not all traditional approaches will work.

Campbell reporting.

Reach King at 770-488-5107; Blue Eyes at 812-369-6169. View report at:

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - SD