Tobacco consumption in the Hispanic community is often the result of the intentional focus of the tobacco industry into our community. Learn about this story, the resources available to Hispanic people in Utah, and the importance of finding a community that helps you quit tobacco and nicotine products.
Tobacco consumption and its negative health effects disproportionately affect certain communities around the world. In the case of Hispanic and Latinx communities, this is in large due to how the tobacco industry uses the cultural and sacred meaning of tobacco to address people with its products.
It is essential to understand this story, create awareness, and provide support to people seeking to give up nicotine. In Utah, where approximately 13% of the population identifies as Hispanic or of Latinx descent, organizations work tirelessly to support people in their community to stop smoking. Centro Hispano y Comunidades Unidas has extensive programs and initiatives focused on connecting members of the community with essential resources. Through mobile health clinics, health holidays and comprehensive tobacco prevention programs, these organizations ensure that people have access to primary care providers, screening tests and services to stop smoking, such as quitting lines smoking or help lines. Together with representatives from the Centro Hispano y de Comunidades Unidas, we will address the history of the fight against tobacco, review the resources available to Hispanic people in Utah and discuss why it is so important to find a community that helps them stop smoking.
Educating Early: In collaboration with our local group Latinos In Action, the Centro Hispano educates young people about the legislative process and visits the State Capitol.
The tobacco industry has a history of focusing on the Hispanic community.
The tobacco industry has a history of using tactics to manipulate people and exploit their cultures. María Montes from Comunidades Unidas explains that the duality of the historical meaning of tobacco further exacerbates the problem, saying: “Historically, tobacco consumption has been sacred among indigenous communities. Our understanding of tobacco comes from a spiritual space. But we also engage as a multiracial community and see that tobacco is also rooted in the slavery of our people.” She continues: “There is a duality that exists in tobacco. We understand [tobacco] as something that has been historically spiritual for us, and has also been at the root of a great part of the pain and injustices that our people have faced and continue to face today.”
Marketing tactics continue to be used today. Tobacco companies donate money to Hispanic/Latino foundations, attend cultural celebrations and open storefronts in areas highly populated by Hispanic and Latino communities. They even sell certain tobacco products as a means of assimilation into American culture. These strategies aim to benefit from the tension, documentation status, and the cultural ties of the community.
Abraham Hernández del Centro Hispano explains that tobacco companies focus on new immigrants, especially those who come from countries where tobacco consumption is the norm. “They focus on them as a way of deciding to ‘continue expressing yourself in this way’. Therefore, they are focusing on culture and traditions, especially when speaking with people who come to this country thinking ‘I have to stop being what I used to be.’”
The consequences of this focus are worrying, as more than 43,000 Hispanics are diagnosed with tobacco-related cancer each year, which causes more than 18,000 deaths in the United States. Abraham explains that Hispanics, often made up of recent immigrants, are more susceptible to these marketing tactics, as they seek mechanisms to cope with stress and maintain their cultural traditions.
Informed and Empowered: The community leader, María (in red), talks to parents about the importance of participating in the local decision-making process, and invites them to participate in a meeting at the home of Comunidades Unidas.
Resources for Hispanic Communities in Utah
To combat the influence of the tobacco industry, it is crucial that Hispanics have the knowledge and resources that will help them quit tobacco and nicotine products. Understanding the specific focus strategies used by tobacco companies can help people make informed decisions.
“We have seen tobacco companies evolve over time to adapt to the constant change in pop culture,” explains María. “We have seen tobacco companies adapt; For example, in the 1960s and 1970s, they were redefined as an inherent part of the movement against war. In the 1990s, it became embedded in the fabric of what it meant to be feminist.” She continues: “And in a similar way, they did it with our community, right? They began to focus on people in our community to sell tobacco products by establishing stores within our communities. Therefore, we know that tobacco manufacturers and tobacco minorities are more likely to establish themselves and sell their products in convenience stores and other spaces that are close to very populated multiracial communities.”
Unfortunately, Hispanics are less likely to receive advice on how to stop smoking from health professionals compared to their white counterparts, which undermines the need for greater awareness and access to culturally competent resources to stop smoking in their language.
Organizations like Comunidades Unidas and Centro Hispano help provide more than effort and resources to stop smoking. They recognize that addressing tobacco consumption involves much more. They provide leadership development programs for adults, and safe spaces for young people to develop a community, emphasizing that overcoming tobacco addiction is based on creating supportive environments that promote a sense of belonging and reduce stress. María from Comunidades Unidas says: “[We have] conversations with members of the community about the history of tobacco… so that 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 the opportunities they have to lead in their community. And we challenge them to lead campaigns that focus on the themes that matter to people in their communities with the support of our organizations and communities.” For young people in the community, they created a program called Our Voices, whose objective is to create a safe space for young people, develop their leadership skills, and work on issues that concern them. Organizations like Centro Hispano y Comunidades Unidas play a vital role in connecting people with essential resources, fostering community participation, and empowering them about the history and consequences of tobacco. Together, we can adopt a stance against the tobacco industry and create healthier and freer environments within the Spanish community.
“It’s really about being there in person. And this is how our community works. Our community is face to face, interpersonal, one by one”, says Abraham.
Building the Community: Centro Hispano keeps traditions alive and prepares for the Day of the Magi, where every child and girl from 0 to 12 years of age receives a gift from the Reyes Magos.