Native youth heaviest smokers in nation
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Native American youth have the highest rate of smoking in the nation despite being the smallest segment of the population, a federal report released on Tuesday shows.

But depending on the region, research indicates that use of tobacco products varies widely. Based on a review of studies documenting smoking in Indian Country, the National Cancer Institute reported disparate rates among Native adolescents.

For example, smoking rate in the Pacific Northwest and in Alaska are incredibly high. A 1992 study showed 21 percent of Alaska Native students in grades 7-12 reported tobacco usage, compared to 11 percent elsewhere.

One study of Inuit youth in the United States and Canada found a whopping 70 percent rate of smoking, the report stated. Similarly high usage, 54 percent, was found among Navajo students in grade 7, compared to 33 percent overall, according to research from 1987.

Reservation youth also tend to have higher smoking rates than their off-reservation and urban counterparts, the institute found. In a 1992 study, off-reservation smoking was 10 percent lower.

The findings reflect similar statistics about smoking in the adult Native population. American Indian and Alaska Native women, for instance, reported the highest rate of current tobacco usage in a 2001 U.S. study, far outpacing other racial and ethnic groups.

Adult behaviors may contribute to a "lenient" attitude towards smoking, the study suggests. But there are also cultural, traditional, economic and other factors affecting usage among teens, according to author Felicia Schanche Hodge.

Campaigns to reduce the rates of smoking nationwide have had limited success in Indian Country, according to available research. "[T]he rate of decline in tobacco use has varied among diverse socio-demographically defined groups such as the American Indians and Alaska Natives," one study reported.

To combat the problem, the institute says more education is needed to inform Native Americans of the risks associated with smoking, including cancer, lung disease and other ailments. The report also urges tribes to enact laws and policies "to govern the sale, distribution, and use of cigarettes and chewing tobacco products."

Otherwise, the researchers say the problem will worsen. "Once seen as the symbol for peace and healing among American Indians, tobacco is quickly becoming a symbol for death and has been transformed from a healing herb to a life-threatening habit," Hodge notes.

In recent years, campaigns targeting Native and other youth have emerged. Coming largely out of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, these efforts focus primarily on illicit drug use, which is highest among Native youth as well. Recent ads link substance abuse to terrorism.

Get the Report:
American Indian and Alaska Native Teen Cigarette Smoking: A Review | Changing Adolescent Smoking Prevalence

Relevant Links:
Tobacco Control, Indian Health Service -
National Cancer Institute, Cancer Control and Population Sciences -

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