Background: American Indians/Alaska Natives have the highest commercial tobacco use in the United States, resulting in higher tobacco-caused deaths and diseases than the general population. Some American Indians/Alaska Natives use commercial tobacco for ceremonial as well as recreational uses. Because federally recognized Tribal lands are sovereign, they are not subject to state cigarette taxes and smoke-free laws. This study analyzes tobacco industry promotional efforts specifically targeting American Indians/Alaska Natives and exploiting Tribal lands to understand appropriate policy responses in light of American Indians'/Alaska Natives' unique sovereign status and culture.
Methods: We analyzed previously secret tobacco industry documents available at the Truth Tobacco Documents Library (https://industrydocuments.library.ucsf.edu/tobacco/).
Results: Tobacco companies used promotional strategies targeting American Indians/Alaska Natives and exploiting Tribal lands that leveraged the federally recognized Tribes' unique sovereign status exempting them from state cigarette taxes and smoke-free laws, and exploited some Tribes' existing traditional uses of ceremonial tobacco and poverty. Tactics included price reductions, coupons, giveaways, gaming promotions, charitable contributions, and sponsorships. In addition, tobacco companies built alliances with Tribal leaders to help improve their corporate image, advance ineffective Youth Smoking Prevention programs, and defeat tobacco control policies.
Conclusions: The industry's promotional tactics likely contribute to disparities in smoking prevalence and smoking-related diseases among American Indians//Alaska Natives. Proven policy interventions to address these disparities including tobacco price increases, cigarette taxes, comprehensive smoke-free laws, and industry denormalization campaigns to reduce smoking prevalence and smoking-related disease could be considered by Tribal communities. The sovereign status of federally recognized Tribes does not prevent them from adopting these measures.
Implications: American Indians/Alaska Natives suffer disparities in smoking prevalence and smoking-related diseases as compared with other groups. The tobacco industry has used promotional tactics including price reductions, coupons and giveaways, casino and bingo promotions, charitable contributions and sponsorships, and so-called Youth Smoking Prevention (YSP) programs to specifically target American Indians/Alaska Natives and exploit Tribal sovereignty, which likely contribute to disparities in tobacco use and related diseases and deaths among this population. Tribal and public health policy makers should consider rejecting ineffective YSP programs and instead consider adopting proven policy interventions including tobacco price increases, cigarette and casino taxes, comprehensive smokefree laws, and anti-industry denormalization campaigns to reduce smoking and smoking-related disease.
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