Native Cigarettes and Tobacco

Native Cigarettes

Unlike most other groups in the United States, Native Cigarettes have a unique relationship with tobacco. They use it extensively for ceremonial purposes and consider smoking a sacred tradition. As a result, smoking rates are significantly higher among American Indians. They are double the national average among other racial and ethnic groups. That makes cutting smoking rates a top priority for many tribes.

Tobacco’s history with Native Americans is complex, and it is not easy to disentangle from a society’s culture and beliefs. Regardless of whether it is used ceremonially or commercially, tobacco poses serious health risks for the indigenous population.

Sustainability and Responsibility: Native Cigarettes’ Approach to Production

Before European encroachment, indigenous peoples used sacred tobacco that was not smoked or smoked only briefly for prayer or spiritual protection. This traditional tobacco, called kinnickinnick in Ojibwe, was made from the inner bark of willows, dogwoods, or sumac leaves and had very little nicotine in it. Often, it was given to someone as a sign of thanks or to seal peace treaties.

In addition to ceremonial uses, many American Indians and Alaska Natives smoke commercially produced cigarettes on reserve or other tribal lands. This largely occurs because federal laws do not prohibit commercial tobacco sales on tribal lands. The products sold are not subject to the same taxes as regular cigarettes.

The tobacco industry is also targeting American Indians with high-profile advertising campaigns. A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that Native people are more likely to be exposed to tobacco ads than their non-Native counterparts. This can be seen in the number of cigarette ads that appear on television and in magazines.