The tobacco industry spends millions of dollars every day in marketing to specific communities. As noted by the American Cancer Society, the industry purposefully engages in cultural thievery and misrepresentation. The tobacco industry consistently uses American Indian identity and symbols by exploiting them for profit. Products such as American Spirit and Seneca cigarettes have images and claim to be natural additive free products that continuously deceive the public. It wasn’t until 1978 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act passed that American Indian people could begin practicing their spirituality in the open, which included traditional tobacco. Despite all the historical trauma, “three quarters3” of American Indians still reported using traditional tobacco for ceremonial purposes. Secondhand smoke from commercial tobacco is harmful to nonsmokers and contains known toxins and cancer-causing poisons. Yet, the industry to this day still works on manipulating and employing creative strategies to hook this specific population. In current contexts, the exploitation and economy has caused Tribes to begin manufacturing their own commercial tobacco4. This adds further complexities because it adds a double edged sword in which they have to essentially survive with what means they have. Knowing that tribes are tobacco farming causes a stronger imbalance of oppression in American Indian communities because they are exploiting not only their own sacred medicine but in a sense profiting on the death of their community members because of the commercial tobacco as a means of economic development. So do they choose health over programs that provide housing, jobs, etc.?
Community members need serve as the stakeholders in helping to address the community history and values that is hared through the stories. Through this collaboration among community members can help build power in a good way to combat commercial tobacco harms and promote their spiritual aspects of their lives thus reclaiming and restoring their traditional medicines.
LRI-Tobacco Prevention CoCo “fresh” Villaluz