Tobacco holds a sacred place among American Indians.  It is a gift from the Creator.  In California, tobacco is used in a variety of ways. It is used as an offering, and it may be offered to a fire in ceremony or with a prayer.  Some offer tobacco when they take an animal or gather food or plant materials.  Some offer tobacco as a sign of respect to an elder or visitors.  It is also used as a medicine for several purposes.  It is grown in a traditional way and used only for traditional purposes.  Commercial tobacco (cigarettes, chew, snuff, and other commercial tobacco products) must never be used for traditional and sacred purposes.

Our ancestors recognized that tobacco can also cause harm.  This harm is seen through the abuse of commercial tobacco.  The smoking rate of American Indians and Alaska Natives in California is estimated at 27%.  Commercial tobacco increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  Commercial tobacco use causes several types of cancer.  Illness and death from tobacco use is the number one preventable health program facing Indian Country and the world today.

Cancer is the number one leading cause of death of American Indians and Alaska Natives.  There are several health disparities that can help lead to cancer.  90% of lung cancer is the result of smoking or exposure to second hand smoke.  If smoking was eliminated, lung cancer could almost be eliminated.  Women that smoke have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.  Prevention methods such as quitting smoking and HPV vaccinations at an early age, help prevent cervical cancer.  With the increase in obesity and diabetes, liver cancer is quickly rising up the charts as one of the most common types of cancer.  Proper nutrition, good diabetes management, and increased physical activity can help prevent liver cancer.

How CRIHB Can Help

CRIHB is collaborating with the National Native Network to help address traditional tobacco use, commercial tobacco interventions, cessation, and prevention, as well cancer prevention, outreach, and education in California and the United States.  Several services to tribes and tribal health programs include:

  • Providing scientific knowledge and technical assistance that will allow the implementation of high quality interventions that are both culturally competent and science based.
  • Providing expert guidance in quality improvement in tobacco screening and referral to cessation services.
  • Providing technical assistance that is informed by both science and cultural relevancy.
  • Providing expert guidance in policy- from policy planning to enforcement.
  • Providing access to educational webinars to practitioners and tribes that focus on cancer screening, disparities, and treatments as well as tobacco control.
  • Create partnerships with tribes, tribal health programs, county health programs, state agencies, and organizations that help address improved cancer screening, care, and advocacy for American Indians and Alaska Natives in California. Partnerships will also help increase tobacco cessation and prevention efforts.
  • Providing culturally relevant materials and training for tobacco cessation and cancer prevention, focusing on building health American Indian Alaska Native communities.
  • Promoting the proper use of traditional tobacco.