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Podcast: Confronting Commercial Tobacco Use among Native American Tribes

Narrator:  2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and health. This series of podcasts celebrates the progress made—and the work still to be done—to end tobacco-related disease and death.

Tribal Support Centers work with many American Indian and Alaskan Native groups to reduce commercial tobacco use among Tribal people.

Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson was the first American Indian woman to graduate from Yale University School of Medicine. Today, she is vice president of the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health in South Dakota.  One issue she is confronting is ceremonial tobacco use among Native tribes.

Patricia Nez Henderson: It’s a huge concern—for many reasons:  We’re seeing that a lot of tribes—instead of using the ceremonial tobacco that they harvest when they go out into the mountains or go into the rivers to harvest these plants, they instead use cigarettes.

… we’re providing education and really having them be empowered to be the voice, to let their constituents know that the use of cigarettes is not traditional and that they need to go back to using, for example, in our tribe, Nicotiana, which is mountain smoke, mountain tobacco that is harvest from the sacred mountains on the Navaho Nation.

Narrator:  Even with these challenges, Dr. Nez Henderson acknowledges that progress has been made.

Patricia Nez Henderson: Four years ago, we started working very closely with the Navajo Nation leadership and the Navajo Nation communities in passing a very comprehensive tobacco-free policy on Navajo Nation. And it’s just been tremendous.

Many of the tribes have passed legislative policies that prohibit the use of cigarettes or smoking—they’ve gone even beyond that to make it so that it’s commercial tobacco free.

Narrator: This podcast is a production of the Office of the Surgeon General and CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. For more information, go to The opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Health and Human Services.