Comprehensive program to reduce and prevent commercial tobacco use in Navajo communities

WINSLOW -- On Nov. 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a $1,000,000 grant to address commercial tobacco use among Navajo Nation tribal members.

The Black Hills Center for American Indian Health (BHCAIH), a nonprofit community-based organization located in Rapid City, S.D., will work collaboratively with 20 Navajo chapter communities to develop and implement a culturally relevant and comprehensive tobacco prevention and control program.

"Over the past few decades, rates of cigarette smoking have been steadily increasing among the Navajo, especially the youth" said Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson, a Navajo tribal member and the Vice-President of the BHCAIH. "Historically, rates of commercial tobacco use among the Navajo people have been low, but data now show that more than 66 percent of Navajo eighth graders have tried cigarette smoking. Of these youngsters, more than half will become regular smokers. Experimentation with cigarette smoking among our Navajo youth is a public health concern. With smoking considered a gateway drug, we as the Navajo community need to begin to address this problem using a comprehensive approach while remaining respectful of the use of ceremonial tobacco," explained Dr. Nez Henderson. "While we may not observe the direct impact of commercial tobacco use in high rates of lung cancer, if we do nothing now our communities will ultimately suffer."

The Southwest Navajo Education and Prevention Program (SNTEPP) will work with chapter communities located primarily in the southwest region of the Navajo Reservation using an approach that includes education on prevention, cessation, second hand smoke and tobacco-related policies.

"Based on evidences from other states, California for example, we know that tobacco prevention and control dramatically reduces commercial tobacco use rates, especially among the youth," said Pete Nez, a Navajo tribal member and the SNTEPP project manager. "Today many of our Navajo do not understand the risk of both cigarette smoking and chewing tobacco. Use of commercial tobacco has become a social norm in our communities. For example, when we see a Navajo youth smoking we are not bothered by it. I remember years ago our grandparents totally forbidding us from using any form of commercial tobacco. If we were caught, we were severely punished."

The SNTEPP staff said they are excited to begin working with the Navajo communities, schools, organizations and businesses to increase knowledge of commercial tobacco and how it impacts Navajo people.

The Navajo Nation Division of Health endorses this newly funded project.

Navajo Chapter Communities participating include Bird Springs, Cornfield, Dilkon, Forest Lake Ganado, Hardrock, Houk, Indian Wells, Jeddito, Leupp, Lower Greasewood, Low Mountain, Lupton, Nahata Dzill, Pinon, Steamboat, Teesto, Tolani Lake, Wide Ruins and Whitecone.

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