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Tobacco industry misappropriation of American Indian culture and traditional tobacco
  1. Joanne D’Silva1,2,
  2. Erin O’Gara1,
  3. Nicole T Villaluz3,4
  1. 1Research Department, ClearWay Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
  2. 2Department of Behavioral and Community Health, University of Maryland School of Public Health, College Park, Maryland, USA
  3. 3Community Development Department, ClearWay Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
  4. 4Hidatsa/Assiniboine/Chamorro, USA
  1. Correspondence to Joanne D’Silva, Research Department, Clear Way Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55425, USA; jdsilva{at}


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.

  • tobacco industry documents
  • priority/special populations
  • advertising and promotion

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • JD’S, EO’G and NTV contributed equally.

  • Contributors JD and NV led the conceptualisation of this manuscript. JD, EO and NV conducted data collection and EO led the data analysis. All authors contributed substantively to writing, revising and final review.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement All tobacco industry documents are available electronically via the Truth Tobacco Documents Library.

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