Preserving Tradition Starts With Protecting Your Health

Commercial tobacco harms its users and the people around them.  Not only can stopping commercial tobacco use help keep you healthy, but it can also protect your family members and the environment around you.

Quitting Commercial Tobacco

Commercial tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S. Whether smoked or chewed, commercial tobacco causes cancer, heart disease, and stroke and makes other health conditions worse.

When you stop using commercial tobacco, you can add decades to your life. You can also keep others around you healthier by limiting their exposure to secondhand smoke. 

Quitting commercial tobacco doesn’t mean ending the use of traditional tobacco. The QuitLine is staffed with American Indian coaches who understand the role of tobacco in American Indian culture and the impacts of commercial tobacco. Their help is free, and they can support you in a way that honors your culture and helps you be healthier without commercial tobacco.

Tobacco's Impact On Our Community

It’s helpful to understand the differences between traditional and commercial tobacco.

The use of traditional tobacco in American Indian culture goes back centuries. Many tribes use tobacco for ceremonial or medicinal purposes, although the preparation, use and even types of plants used can vary.

Commercial tobacco, like that found in cigarettes and chew, was created for recreational use — and has far more harmful effects. Dangerous chemicals added to commercial tobacco products can make them smell or taste different and make them easier to inhale. These products are highly addictive, and using them can lead to serious chronic health conditions and even death.

Other products — like e-cigarettes or pouches — are even further removed from traditional tobacco. They still have the addictive properties of nicotine and harmful chemicals in them, but some of these products are entirely synthetic and don’t contain natural tobacco in them at all. 

Elder Young explains how tobacco companies have used traditions to sell tobacco:

Interested in helping others know the differences between traditional and commercial tobacco? Share the Cultural Differences resource by printing it or sharing it on social media.

Cashing In On Culture

The tobacco industry has worked to blur the lines between traditional and commercial tobacco — distorting its traditional, cultural value to sell addictive and deadly commercial tobacco products.

The tobacco plant commonly used in commercial tobacco was first introduced to tribes in the Western U.S. in the 1800s. Since then, tobacco companies have used American Indian imagery in brands like Big Red, Natural American Spirit, Old Gold and Red Man to sell tobacco. 

The tobacco industry used American Indian imagery to sell tobacco products. At the same time, laws made it easier for tobacco companies to sell tobacco on American Indians’ land.

From the late 1880s to the late 1970s, federal laws banned many American Indian cultural practices, including some traditional uses of tobacco, causing some groups to use commercial cigarettes instead of traditionally grown tobacco. Tobacco companies have also targeted people from these groups and taken advantage of tribes’ unique sovereign status to avoid state cigarette taxes and smoke-free laws that make it more difficult to smoke commercial tobacco. Big Tobacco has also offered deep discounts to entice American Indians and get tribal members addicted for cheap. 

The result? Since the 1970s, American Indians/Alaska Natives have had the highest commercial tobacco use compared with other race and ethnic groups.1

Healthier Communities

Stopping commercial tobacco use creates healthier communities. 

Commercial tobacco is the cause of death for up to half of the people who use it. It also endangers others around them. Secondhand smoke from commercial tobacco products puts others at an increased risk of lung cancer. Unborn babies who are exposed to tobacco are more likely to be born prematurely, underweight or with birth defects such as cleft palate.

For resources to help teens avoid tobacco or quit and to support healthier communities, visit
Next Legends.