Tobacco prevention for native cultures — my trip to New Zealand

Because of my previous work with youth tobacco prevention, I was chosen by the World Health Organization (WHO) to travel to New Zealand in November to serve as a temporary WHO adviser and to share my mana`o and work that I do as a young native Hawaiian.

When I arrived at the Manurewa Marae in New Zealand, I met other amazing indigenous peoples ranging from Indians to Argentineans. In the light of the high levels of tobacco consumption among indigenous communities, the WHO and the Ministry of Health of New Zealand in collaboration with Te Reo Marama (Maori Smoke Free Coalition) organized this meeting. I was there not more than two hours when I was interviewed for the Maori TV and radio stations. 

The objectives of this conference were to have indigenous populations share practical experiences and lessons learned in the area of the tobacco control policies/programs and to develop general guidelines for tobacco control among indigenous communities.

There are 70 countries where smoking and lung disease among the indigenous population is considered a big problem. We are trying to promote participation of native peoples to help stop the industry from selling deadly products using our cultures. 

I stood in front of about 40 adults, scared and terrified but determined to get my point across about my culture and the work that I do. They were totally interested, more than I expected, and realized that youth play a big role for the tobacco industry. It is important that we involve the youth right up to the kupuna with this issue.

There are about 100 native Hawaiians dying every year from lung cancer, and I’m trying to work with the youth to reduce this number. The industry spends $48.2 million advertising in Hawaii out of $15.4 billion on advertising nationally. 

I’m the island leader for REAL, a statewide youth-led movement against the tobacco industry, and the president of Hui Ho`okupono here on Molokai. It is a cultural leadership group and we are drug/alcohol/tobacco free advocates. With these two groups I try to involve as much teens as I can to change statistics. These two groups worked together to help pass the smoke free work places law which was a huge success. 

I am also affiliated with American Legacy in Washington D.C. It’s the largest national public health foundation dedicated to preventing teens from smoking and providing resources to smokers who want to quit. I am passionate about what I do because most teens sit back and watch as other teens abuse themselves with deadly chemicals.

I decided to be the change I wanted to see in the world and took one step at a time to help native people and youth become better sober people. Some adults may look at youth trying to change things as a joke, but if you’re headstrong and believe in what you want and fight for it they will look at you in a whole different way.


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