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Native Americans

A Tobacco Use Epidemic

Native Americans, a segment of the population which includes American Indians, Alaska’s indigenous populations, and Native Hawaiians, are extremely vulnerable to tobacco use and its deadly health effects. Tobacco abuse by this population is one of the top three health problems, in addition to complications of obesity and diabetes.

A Concern for Maine

Reducing tobacco use among the Native American segment of the population is a priority for our state. To read more about tobacco use within this population, download the Native Americans Fact Sheet.

Tobacco’s Respected Tradition:

A Critical Distinction

For the Native American community, tobacco is viewed as a plant with sacred character, and it is a mainstay of native ceremonies. For New England Indians, tribal religious ceremonies and intertribal conferences begin with a pipe and the smoking of tobacco. For some Native American tribes, tobacco smoke has been traditionally used to cure illness, to purify, and as a form of prayer. Some tribes cultivate tobacco crops as a reflection of great respect.

Unlike commercial tobacco use, there is no evidence that tobacco use in traditional ceremonies leads to habituation. Tobacco use honors and respects native traditions – tobacco abuse does not. Because smoking is associated with these sacred rituals and spiritual practices, a distinction must be made between ceremonial tobacco use and commercial products that contribute to death and disease.

As always, the youth of the community is vulnerable to the brutality of commercial tobacco products: children learn by watching adults. It is critical that Native American parents teach children to respect traditional tobacco use and avoid tobacco abuse.

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Challenges of Prevention

Working Toward Prevention

Community and individual initiatives toward preventing tobacco use among Native American youth and adults :

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Additional Links

American Indian Tobacco Education Network – Education for Native Americans about how to quit.

Native American Tobacco Coaltion of Montana - Promotes responsible use of sacred, ceremonial tobacco to ensure family and community health.

Health Disparities Affecting Minorities – Brochure from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Indigenous Peoples Task Force of Minnesota – Services for the Native American community about tobacco and HIV prevention.

Northern California Indian Development Council - Tobacco Use Prevention Education Program.

Noojmowin Teg Health Centre – “Breaking the Smoking Habit Before it Breaks You"

Tobacco Use Among American Indians and Alaska Natives – The Surgeon General’s Report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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