DENVER, CO. — Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to kick a smoking habit? The CDC reports that the number of people who smoke in the U.S. is at an all-time low. In the 60’s, more than 42% of adults smoked. Today that number is less than 18%. But not everyone is happy with those numbers. Despite the overall trend, there are three groups who still smoke in alarming numbers. ABC 10’s Sarah Mac tells us who they are and how experts are trying new ways to help them.
As an American Indian and organizer of Powwows, Robbi Swift understands the role tobacco has played in her culture for centuries. American Indian Smoker Robbi Swift says, “It’s our sign of appreciation, because, to us, tobacco is a gift.”
But for Robbi, personally, it’s a bad habit. Not the traditional form of tobacco used in ceremonial pipes – but commercial products sold in stores. And Robbi is not alone.
Amy Lukowski, PsyD, of National Jewish Health says, “For the American Indian, it’s the highest ethnic group, it’s 26 percent smoking prevalence.”
Amy Lukowski oversees the nation’s largest non-profit tobacco quite-line at National Jewish Health in Denver.
While the overall number of smokers is going down, experts say three groups are lighting up – in troubling numbers. In addition to the 26% of American Indians who smoke, 36% of those with mental health issues smoke. And smoking among members of the LGBT community is up to 200% higher than the general population. And one major reason – is advertising.
Lukowski adds, “There’s a popular ad that says ‘whenever somebody says that’s gay, we’ll be there for you.’ And it’s a tobacco company ad.”
Other ads speak to American Indians. So that’s what experts are doing, too.
Becoming the first quit-line in the nation to pair American Indian callers to counselors who understand the difference between traditional and commercial tobacco use.
Lukowski says, “What we heard from our focus groups is that people want to work with people that understand what they’ve been through.”
A concept experts hope to expand in an effort to reach other groups who’ve been overlooked or under-served.
Swift says, “It’s the same psychological advantage across anything in the world – your peers are talking to you, you’re more willing to listen.”
The quit-line in Denver handles up to 22,000 calls per month. Experts say in addition to hiring American Indians, they also want to train operators to work specifically with LGBT callers and those with mental health issues.
Information courtesy of National Jewish Health.