Health Problems


Tobacco, while not a food, is often associated with food. Some people smoke continually, some only sporadically, maybe to curb their appetites or they smoke after a meal. Smokers have difficulty breathing and may find walking-and certainly running--difficult. Tobacco is indigenous to the New World, but Indigenous people did not smoke themselves to death. Depending on the tribe, tobacco was (and is) associated with religion and ceremonies. “Indian Tobacco,” that tobacco without any additives (carcinogenic substances, tar, nicotine found in commercial cigarettes), is the common name for the plant Lobelia inflata (although it is also known as asthma weed, gagroot, pulseweed, emetic herb, frengiotu, lobelia, wild tobacco, vomitroot). This botanical medicine is used for medicinal purposes as an antispasmodic herb, a respiratory stimulant for conditions such as bronchial asthma and chronic bronchitis. The dried herb and the seed also can be used as an anti-asthmatic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant and nervine and can be used to treat asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough and pleurisy. The plant can be used externally in treating pleurisy, rheumatism, boils and ulcers. Excessive use, however, can cause nausea, vomiting and respiratory failure.*

The use of commercial tobacco today is a huge threat to Natives. Not only is it addictive, tobacco smoke also contains almost 4000 chemicals and for every cigarette smoked, that smoker can expect to lose approximately 5.5 minutes of the life expectancy. Smoking cigarettes and cigars is the major cause of lung cancer. It reduces fertility, severely damages the fetus, causes cancers of the pancreas, bladder, mouth, esophagus and cervix. Even if you do not smoke, but someone in your household does, you are still vulnerable to these problems because of second-hand smoke. Dipping snuff can cause a variety of cancers as well.

* See also Christina, Pegp, et. al., “Tobacco, culture, and health among American Indians: a historical review,” 19(2) American Indian Culture and Research Journal (1995): 143-164.