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Vanderbilt Student Writes Anti-Smoking Book for Native Children

"Denali Dreams," written by a Vanderbilt University junior, is geared toward Native children to promote a positive anti-smoking message.
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Logan Brown, a junior majoring in business at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, has written Denali Dreams, a book that promotes a positive anti-smoking message geared toward Native children, reports the Lawrence Journal-World.

Denali, the book’s title character, is an Alaska Native elementary student who draws inspiration from the mountain after which she was named—a name that means “the high one” or “the great one” in Koyukon Athabascan—to work hard as a student and soccer player. Denali keeps her goals in mind and resists her friend’s offer to share a cigarette while visualizing the damage it would do to her lungs.

Brown is completing a fellowship with the Truth Initiative Foundation, a nonprofit previously known as the American Legacy Foundation and funded by the 1998 settlement between major tobacco companies and 46 states, the District of Columbia and five territories.

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Native Americans have the highest smoking rate among all ethnicities, and Brown told LJ-World she wrote this book to help counter that. It was printed through a partnership between the foundation, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 9 out of 10 smokers tried their first cigarette by the age of 18, and 99 percent tried smoking by the age of 26. And the Maine Center for Disease Center and Prevention points out that American Indians smoke at a rate of 32.4 percent, which is the highest percentage of any ethnicity.

“Tobacco companies have tailored their messages toward Native Americans,” Brown told LJ-World. “They are spending so much money marketing to the community.”

Brown is correct. According to research done by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, the tobacco industry has sponsored Native American events, and used Native imagery and branding to target Native customers. Take for instance the Natural American Spirit brand, who many believe is a Native-owned company because of the branding and image on the package, but it is not.

“The Santa Fe [Natural] Tobacco company has misled and misrepresented themselves as being an ‘Indian-owned’ company, which they are not. Their brand implies that smoking their product is better because it contains no additives or chemicals and is thus ‘natural.’ They also promote Native American imagery on their brands as a way for their consumers who are non-Native to ‘create ties to American Indians,’ ‘reassure their choice to smoke,’ and as a reminder of tobacco’s original use in its natural state,” reads the research.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also points to how the tobacco industry targets marketing to minorities. “Marketing to Hispanics and American Indians/Alaska Natives has included advertising and promotion of cigarette brands with names such as Rio, Dorado, and American Spirit.”

To help with “Denali Dreams,” Brown visited an elementary school in New Mexico. “They drew pictures of how they thought it should be illustrated,” Brown said. “A graphic artist worked from that, but the illustrations are 100 percent the ideas of the students.”

“I’ve had excellent feedback so far from the Bureau of Indian Education,” she said. “They found it very applicable. I’ve read to a few classes of kids. It was very successful so far [at] getting the message across.”

This story was originally published January 12, 2017.