Tobacco industry misappropriation of American Indian culture and traditional tobacco

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Abstract

Objective

Describe the extent to which tobacco industry marketing tactics incorporated American Indian culture and traditional tobacco.

Methods

A keyword search of industry documents was conducted using document archives from the Truth Tobacco Documents Library. Tobacco industry documents (n=76) were analysed for themes.

Results

Tobacco industry marketing tactics have incorporated American Indian culture and traditional tobacco since at least the 1930s, with these tactics prominently highlighted during the 1990s with Natural American Spirit cigarettes. Documents revealed the use of American Indian imagery such as traditional headdresses and other cultural symbols in product branding and the portrayal of harmful stereotypes of Native people in advertising. The historical and cultural significance of traditional tobacco was used to validate commercially available tobacco.

Conclusions

The tobacco industry has misappropriated culture and traditional tobacco by misrepresenting American Indian traditions, values and beliefs to market and sell their products for profit. Findings underscore the need for ongoing monitoring of tobacco industry marketing tactics directed at exploiting Native culture and counter-marketing tactics that raise awareness about the distinction between commercial and traditional tobacco use. Such efforts should be embedded within a culturally sensitive framework to reduce the burden of commercial tobacco use.

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