Tobacco use among Hispanics and Latin Americans is often a result of intentional targeting by the tobacco industry. Learn about this history, the resources available to Hispanics in Utah, and the importance of finding a community to help you quit tobacco and nicotine products.
Tobacco use and its negative health effects disproportionately impact particular communities worldwide. For Latin American people, this is largely due to the tobacco industry using the cultural and sacred significance of tobacco to target people with their products.
It’s essential to understand this history, raise awareness, and provide support for individuals looking to quit nicotine. In Utah, where approximately 13% of the population identifies as Hispanic or from Latin descent, two organizations work tirelessly to support people in their tobacco cessation journey. Centro Hispano and Comunidades Unidas have extensive programs and initiatives focused on connecting community members to essential resources. Through mobile health clinics, health fairs and comprehensive tobacco prevention programs, these organizations make sure people have access to primary care providers, screenings and cessation services such as quitlines or helplines. Along with representatives from Centro Hispano and Comunidades Unidas, we’ll dive into the history of tobacco targeting, review resources available to Hispanics in Utah, and discuss why it’s so important to find a community to help with your quit journey.
Educating Early: In partnership with our local Latinos In Action, Centro Hispano educates youth on the legislative process and visit the State Capitol.
Tobacco has a history of targeting the Hispanic community.
The tobacco industry has a track record of using tactics to manipulate people and exploit their cultures. Maria Montes from Comunidades Unidas explains that the duality of tobacco’s historical significance further compounds the problem, saying, “Historically, tobacco use has been sacred among indigenous communities. Our understanding of tobacco comes from a spiritual space. But then we also engage as a multiracial community and see that tobacco is also really rooted in the enslavement of our people.” She continues, “There’s this duality that tobacco has. We both understand [tobacco] as being something that has been historically spiritual for us, and it has been at the root of a lot of the pain and injustices that our people have faced and continue to face today.”
Marketing ploys continue to be used today. Tobacco companies donate money to Hispanic/Latin American foundations, attend cultural celebrations, and establish retail locations in areas highly populated by Hispanic and Latin American people. They even market certain tobacco products as a means of assimilation into American culture. These strategies aim to profit from the community’s stress, documentation status and cultural ties.
Abraham Hernandez from Centro Hispano explains that tobacco companies target new immigrants, especially those who come from countries where tobacco use is the norm. “They target them as a way of saying ‘continue to express yourself that way.’ So, they’re targeting culture and traditions, especially when they’re talking to people who come to this country thinking ‘I have to do away with who I used to be.’”
The consequences of this targeting are concerning, with more than 43,000 Hispanics being diagnosed with tobacco-related cancer annually, leading to more than 18,000 deaths in the United States. Abraham explains that Hispanics, often composed of recent immigrants, are more susceptible to these marketing tactics as they look for mechanisms to cope with stress and maintain cultural traditions.
Informed and Empowered: Community leader, Maria (in red), talks to parents about the importance of being involved in local decision-making process and invites them to participate in CU’s house meeting.
Resources for people in Utah who are Hispanic and Latin American
To combat the tobacco industry’s influence, it is crucial that Hispanics have knowledge and resources to help them quit tobacco and nicotine products. Understanding the specific targeting strategies used by tobacco companies can help individuals make informed decisions.
“We’ve seen tobacco companies evolve over time to adjust to the ever-changing pop culture,” explains Maria. “We’ve seen tobacco companies adapt; for example, in the 1960s and 1970s, they reframed themselves as inherently part of the anti-war movement. They ingrained themselves into the fabric of what it meant to be a feminist in the 1990s.” She continues, “And similarly, they did that with our community, right? They began to target people in our community for the sale of tobacco products by setting up shop within our communities. So, we know that tobacco manufacturers and tobacco retailers are more likely to set up shop and sell their products in convenience stores and other spaces that have proximity to highly populated, multiracial communities.”
Unfortunately, Hispanics are less likely to receive advice about how to quit from health care professionals compared with their white counterparts, which underscores the need for greater awareness and access to culturally competent cessation resources in their language.
Organizations like Comunidades Unidas and Centro Hispano help provide more than just cessation efforts and resources. They recognize that addressing tobacco use involves more. They provide leadership development programs for adults and safe spaces for youth to build community, emphasizing that overcoming tobacco addiction is rooted in creating supportive environments that promote a sense of belonging and reduce stress.
Maria says of Comunidades Unidas, “[We have] conversations with community members about the history of tobacco … so people can make an informed decision about the products themselves.” She adds, “We have a leadership development program for adults called Promote the Program, where they learn about opportunities for them to lead in their community. And we challenge them to lead on the campaigns, on the issues that matter to people in their communities with the support of our organization and communities.” For the youth in their community, they created a program called Nuestras Voces, which is meant to create a safe space for youth, develop their leadership skills, and work on issues they care about.
Organizations like Centro Hispano and Comunidades Unidas play a vital role in connecting people to essential resources, fostering community engagement, and educating them about the history and consequences of tobacco. Together, we can take a stand against the tobacco industry and create healthier, smoke-free environments within the Hispanic community.
“It’s really being there in person. And that’s just how our community works. Our community is face-to-face, interpersonal, one on one,” says Abraham.
If you or someone you know is seeking support in quitting tobacco or nicotine use, reach out to Centro Hispano and Comunidades Unidas, or visit WaytoQuit.org or DejeloYa.org.
Community Building: Centro Hispano keeps traditions alive and prepares for Dia de los Reyes Magos where every child 0-12 receives a toy from the Reyes Magos (Wisemen).
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