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3 min read

Traditional Tobacco vs. Commercial Tobacco — What are the Differences?

When it comes to upholding traditions, commercial tobacco poses a major threat to Native communities. Though often referred to as traditional "tobacco," sacred ċanśaśa is typically neither addictive nor damaging to your health when used correctly.

Sacred ċanśaśa and other traditional “tobacco” products play an important cultural role for many tribes. They are used as offerings for ceremonial and other traditional purposes.

The commercial tobacco industry has a history of targeting Native populations with their advertising, taking advantage of imagery and icons to promote habits that stifle Native voices.

Leaving commercial tobacco products like cigarettes, vape pens and chewing tobacco in the past is the best way for Native American communities to improve their collective health. Here’s what you need to know:

Tobacco History in Native Cultures

For centuries, Native Americans have used sacred ċanśaśa and other natural plant mixtures for medicinal, spiritual and ceremonial purposes. This traditional “tobacco” has been an essential part of Indigenous culture.

In the 1800s, settlers restricted these freedoms, and any use of these sacred products was banned — despite the cultural importance to the people.

Many Native Americans switched gears, opting to use commercial tobacco as a replacement for these traditions for more than 100 years.

The United States passed the Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, making traditional ċanśaśa and other sacred products legal.

But the damage was done. These traditions had to rely on harmful, commercial products like cigarettes, vape pens and chewing tobacco, and traditions evolved into destructive nicotine addictions with lasting damage.

Lakota, Dakota and Nakota populations smoke TWICE as much commercial tobacco as the general population.



Traditional tobacco vs. commercial tobacco

Using commercial tobacco causes diseases like cancer, heart disease, lung disease, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), emphysema and more. These can be life-threatening for anyone who uses them. Yet these products are often advertised to Native populations, exploiting their culture in the process.

While commercial products have dangerous additives and are used for recreation and habitual purposes, less-harmful traditional products are natural, used in a respectful manner and are not inhaled.

Depending on the tribe and the region, traditional tobacco preparation varies. In South Dakota tribes and surrounding areas, ċanśaśa is one of the more commonly used products. Sacred ċanśaśa is neither harmful nor addictive.

This traditional tobacco is not actually tobacco at all. Ċanśaśa is harvested near creek beds inside the branches of red willow trees and prepared with great respect.

For the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people, čhaŋnúŋpa (sacred pipe) is a key part of spirituality and culture. Typically, the sacred pipe is brought to the mouth and the user exhales into it, sending smoke pouring from the end of the pipe. This is thought to cast things like offerings or prayers up to the spirit world.

Ċanśaśa can be used for prayer, ceremonies, social occasions, smudge, medicinal purposes, gifts and for trade.




The most effective way to protect Native communities from the dangers of commercial tobacco and to aim toward a better future is to stop smoking, vaping and chewing harmful tobacco products.

Quit commercial tobacco today, and help improve your communities’ lungs and overall health. Look to a healthier future full of valuable traditions and free of health problems caused by commercial tobacco.


Sources: CDC, National Native Network, NNN — Sacred Willow, NPAIHB

Quit tools

13 or Older

For South Dakota residents 13 or older, South Dakota QuitLine offers three FREE ways to quit tobacco. Choose the option that works best for you and your quit journey.

12 or Younger

For those 12 or younger, the Truth Initiative offers This is Quitting, available 24/7 through your phone to help you quit and stay quit.