Native organizations awarded grants from the R.W. Johnson Foundation to reduce tobacco use

Grant will fund efforts to establish comprehensive commercial tobacco-free laws on the Navajo Nation

RAPID CITY, S.D.-The Black Hills Center for American Indian Health (BHCAIH)- a community based, non-profit health organization located in Rapid City, S.D.-announced during the second week of February that it received a $74,965 grant to support policies that would stop commercial tobacco use in public places, tribal buildings, tribal schools, tribal housing, tribal businesses and workplaces on the Navajo Nation. This initiative is one of seven projects in American Indian country and 21 projects across the United States supported by Tobacco Policy Change: A Collaboration for Healthier Communities and States, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

"For the past year BHCAIH has worked collaboratively with the Navajo Nation on addressing commercial tobacco use. The RWJF grant takes the next step in addressing a public health concern that is plaguing our Indian communities," said Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson, MD, MPH, a Navajo tribal member and vice president of the BHCAIH. "This funding is both timely and highly relevant for the Navajo Nation. The implementation of tobacco-free policies is one of the most effective methods of decreasing initiation and use of both cigarettes and chewing tobacco among youth. We will continue to work with the Navajo Nation and Southwest Navajo Tobacco Education and Prevention Project Coalition (SNTEPP)-a Navajo community-based, grassroots organization-in a manner that is culturally appropriate for the Navajo people."

"Our People are beginning to understand that smoking and chewing tobacco are harmful to our mind, body and spirit. However, the Navajo Nation has always been at the forefront of addressing issues in Indian Country. The goal of this project provides the opportunity for the Navajo Nation to path the way in addressing commercial tobacco at the policy level. I look forward to that day when I can go to public events and into public facilities with my grandchildren and have the environment be commercial tobacco free," said the former Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begay, a key partner of SNTEPP.

While 40 years of tobacco control efforts have produced significant reductions in smoking, there continues to be a compelling need for advocacy and education efforts focused on the dangers of tobacco use and exposure. Each year tobacco use kills 440,000 Americans.

Moreover, its damage is now disproportionately felt in particular communities and populations. This is especially true throughout American Indian country and in the southern region of the country. This is the third round of the Tobacco Policy Change program and the increased number of grantees from these areas reflects the heightened level of concern about tobacco use and exposure in these regions.

Smoking prevalence among the Navajos has risen dramatically over the past twenty years, with rates as high as 28 percent in some communities. The alarming rate of smoking is especially notable in the young adult and adolescent population. Of additional concern is the observation that both male and female Navajo smokers are more likely to begin smoking at earlier ages than do Caucasians. Furthermore, there is a considerable shift toward addictive use of smokeless tobacco. Fifty-six percent of Navajo youth grades 9-10 are using chewing tobacco on a regular basis.

"It is vital that people in Indian country, who live and work in places hit hardest by tobacco have a say in making their communities healthier places to work and raise a family," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., RWJF president and CEO. "The work of Black Hills Center for American Indian Health reflects a focused, community-based approach targeted in areas that suffer disproportionately high rates of tobacco use, exposure to secondhand smoke and related diseases."

Including the grant announcements, Tobacco Policy Change: A Collaborative for Healthier Communities and States is providing up to $12 million in support of tobacco prevention and cessation policy initiatives, especially in those areas where tobacco continues to have its most devastating consequences. This is the third round of three one-year grant awards, which vary in range from $75,000 to $150,000.

For more information about this program and others supported by RWJF, visit www.rwjf.org.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 30 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.

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