Tobacco is Sacred, Cigarettes are Not

The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Building has red signs posted at the entrances declaring the building a "Smoke Free Environment" yet employees are allowed to smoke inside the furnace room.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Building has red signs posted at the entrances declaring the building a “Smoke Free Environment” yet employees are allowed to smoke inside the furnace room.

Kudos to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe for taking a huge step forward and being the first Lakota tribe to outlaw smoking in public places. The CRST Smoke-Free Air Act took effect on May 1, 2015 and bans smoking in “any enclosed public place.” Smoking is also not allowed “within fifty feet of outside entrances to public buildings.” Violators are subject to a fine.
Unfortunately, there are many of us living on the Rosebud Reservation who can’t visit certain places because of cigarette smoke. For instance, our casino allows patrons to smoke indoors. Those of you who don’t smoke are adversely affected by the toxic blue smoke that fills the Rosebud Casino. Non-smokers walk away from an outing at the casino reeking of cigarette smoke. They will also cough for an extended period of time after inhaling all that deadly second hand smoke.
Also, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Building has red signs at all the entrances proclaiming it to be a “Smoke Free Environment.” But the employees who work there know this isn’t true. Smokers will gather in packs in the room where the furnace is to smoke indoors. The toxic blue smoke wafts through the vents to permeate the entire building. That’s why you can often smell cigarette smoke in some offices in the Tribal Building.
I challenge all tribal councils to follow Cheyenne River’s lead and enact the same type of smoking ban on all reservations. Cigarette smoke is deadly. When children are inside a building where people are allowed to smoke, they are affected by it because the smoke goes everywhere. And those non-smoking areas sitting right next to the smoking sections don’t really do much good because cigarette smoke permeates everything.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offer us some staggering numbers regarding American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) who are currently smoking cigarettes. For instance, in 2013, 26.1% of AI/AN adults in the United States smoked cigarettes, compared with 17.8% of U.S. adults overall. That means over one quarter of people in Indian Country are cigarette smokers.
The CDC also reported that the prevalence of current cigarette smoking was higher among AI/AN men (32.1%) than among AI/AN women (22.0%). Some good news is that from 2005 to 2013, current cigarette smoking prevalence decreased among AI/AN adults (from 32.0% in 2005 to 26.1% in 2013). That means in 2013 there were 5.9% less cigarette smokers in Indian Country than there were in 2005. I have to wonder if that percentage decreased by 5.9% because those cigarette smokers died before they quit smoking.
Cigarettes will definitely kill you. Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable death among our people. Still, I know how the mind of a cigarette smoker reasons out the addiction. I can list all the statistics and health risks that smoking causes but it will never be enough to convince you to put out your cigarette for good. You have to do that on your own.
In January 2008, after decades of nicotine addiction, I put my cigarette out to begin a new life as a non-smoker. After smoking up to a pack or more each day, I have not smoked a cigarette in over seven years. I searched for resources to help me overcome my drug addiction. I bought several books to read. One of them was The Easy Way To Stop Smoking, written by Allen Carr. His book was down-to-earth and made total sense to me.
“If you are apprehensive, panic-stricken, or feel that the time is not right for you to give up, then let me assure you that your apprehension or panic is caused by fear,” Carr wrote. “That fear is not relieved by cigarettes, but created by them. You didn’t decide to fall into the nicotine trap. But like all traps, it is designed to ensure that you remain trapped. Ask yourself, when you lit those first experimental cigarettes, did you decide to remain a smoker as long as you have? So when are you going to quit? Tomorrow? Next year? Stop kidding yourself! The trap is designed to hold you for life. Why else do you think all these other smokers don’t quit before it kills them?”
Today, I am happy to be a non-smoker. There are people on my Rez who have terrible health problems caused by their addiction to cigarette smoking. Yet, they continue to buy and smoke those deadly cigarettes. Sometimes I see them at the post office or the hospital, gasping for air as they drag an oxygen tank behind them. Watching those people struggle to breathe helps me feel even more grateful that I overcame my addiction.
A recent report issued by the American Lung Association states that “today’s children are now being cultivated to become tomorrow’s tobacco users.” So remember—when you smoke cigarettes, you show your children and grandchildren that it’s an acceptable addiction.
Wopila to the Canli Coalition and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe for setting an example for all other Tribes to follow.

Published by Vi Waln


One thought on “Tobacco is Sacred, Cigarettes are Not

  1. Great article Sicangu! It is people like you that motivate those of us battling tobacco to keep fighting the good fight. It takes great courage and willpower to overcome a nicotine addition, congratulations! Keep telling your story and you will inspire others to quit!

    Also, if Rosebud or other Lakota tribes are interested in developing a coalition to make their rez smoke-free let me know – there are some great resources out there!

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