Since the 1970s, exposure to secondhand smoke has decreased dramatically in the U.S. with implementation of smoke-free policies in many states and communities. However, these protections do not apply on tribal lands, where secondhand smoke continues to pose a health risk in indoor environments like workplaces and casinos.
Mayo researcher Scott Leischow, Ph.D., Hematology/Oncology/Health Sciences Research, is the principal investigator of a study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute State and Community Tobacco Control initiative to better understand how a Navajo coalition is working to foster smoke-free policies. Dr. Leischow leads Mayo’s Office of Health Disparities Research (OHDR) efforts in Arizona.
In the study Networks Among Tribal Organizations for Clean Air Policies, researchers are examining social networks in Navajo Nation and how information is shared on the risks of secondhand commercial tobacco smoke, its impact on health, and related tribal policies.
“A unique and important factor in addressing exposure to commercial tobacco smoke is that natural tobacco is a sacred and fundamental part of Navajo culture,” says Dr. Leischow. “Yet commercial tobacco has found its way into Navajo society.”
Through interviews and network analysis, the research team has found that the majority of Navajo people surveyed prefer to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, but many are concerned that banning smoking in casinos could have a negative economic impact.
The researchers have been sharing such findings broadly with Navajo people. For example, they have developed a series of educational vignettes featuring video interviews with Navajo traditional healers on the influence of commercial tobacco.
“Our research is designed to collect and share information with the Navajo people on the nature and risks of commercial secondhand tobacco smoke, and to better understand how that information is used to foster policy,” says Dr. Leischow. “It’s up to the Navajo people themselves to determine if they want to end that exposure.”
The research team, which includes the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health and the University of Arizona, uses a community-based participatory research approach to ensure that Navajo engagement and leadership are central to the project.
— Kris Schanilec, Public Affairs