One Man’s Perspective: His Love and Hate for Tobacco

Eddiy Hilliard         and  Ariss Rogel Mendoza

Eddiy Hilliard
Ariss Rogel Mendoza

Eddiy Hilliard came to me as a volunteer designer during the Nebraska Aids Project (NAP) Fashion Condom Show.  I had a newly crowned Smokeless Diva and a desire to flaunt her in all her elegance on the NAP runway.  Eddiy readily agreed to be a designer when a mutual friend recommended him. He was direct from the start, “I am a smoker”, he said, “ but I want to help because I think it’s important for people to know that it’s not good for you and that, if possible, they shouldn’t even start .”

True to his word, Eddiy put in long hours and made a beautiful design that represented Mother Nature’s beauty being destroyed by tobacco.  He helped with the concept and made a dying, yet beautiful, tree out of Tygra, our Smokeless Diva 2013.

Eddiy admiring his design

Eddiy admiring his design

You see, I love Eddiy Hilliard to pieces for two reasons.  First, he’s honest.  There is not one mean bone on his body.  Second, he shares his gifts by committing his volunteer time to tobacco awareness in this project. Tobacco has been a villain and an active player throughout Eddiy’s life. His advocacy work is commendable because of his struggle with tobacco, which has shaped his perspective and a lifestyle that works for him. Here is his story:

Growing up, everyone smoked, chewed, or both.  My parents and grandparents smoked.  Everywhere you went there was smoke, and there was no escaping it. I thought it was gross and I wanted nothing to do with it.  Then I moved out…

It turns out; I was an addicted “secondhand smoker”.  When away from home, I craved nicotine at age 21.  I lived alone and there was no one around me to puff smoke on my face.  The only place I didn’t have a problem finding it was at bars.  Everywhere you went someone had a drink on one hand and a cigarette on the other, that is where I got my fix.

I still missed having the smoke at home.  One day I had a craving and just went for it.  I went to a store planning to buy something to eat.  I found myself having a choice between eating or smoking.  I only had money to choose one.  The craving for nicotine was higher.

You see, when you are inhaling secondhand smoke you are smoking just as much,  if not more of the nicotine than the person smoking. Smokers have the filter at the end of the cigarette, while secondhand smokers don’t.  Secondhand smokers can inhale smoke 2 -3 cigarettes at a time, depending on how many people are smoking around you.

Economically, I always found a way to buy my cigarettes and cut corners to afford smoking. I became a vegetarian for 3 years in order to afford smoking- it wasn’t a bad choice, becoming vegetarian, but it was greatly influenced by the control tobacco had over me.

It’s true, I’ve had a love-hate with my cigarettes.  I feel like I can take it or leave it now. I have worked to adapt a frame of mind where I don’t have to have it.  I have gone months without one at times.  I have, like with anything, an occasional craving.

The way I think of it is this: I try to stay away from cigarettes that have too much additives.  In a way, I rationalize smoking because I am consciously staying away from heavily produced, chemically enhanced, tobacco products; having picked, what I think, the better alternative.

I feel I have worked away from the control tobacco had on me.  For example, I love the first couple of drags when I smoke, and by the time I am reaching the end of the cigarette, I get sick of it. At times, I throw away half a pack just having lost the craving or need. I have come a long way by training myself to stay away from smoking as long as I can.

Just because I still smoke, does not mean I think it’s okay for anyone to begin. If you never had it, keep it that way and stay away; that includes secondhand smoke.

If I am around other smokers, I am going to smoke, especially if there is alcohol. If I don’t have a cigarette, it’s as if there is something missing when I drink.  Those old triggers are still there.

I stopped smoking heavily because I have seen what tobacco has done to my family and I don’t want to have to go through the same things.  I didn’t want to be controlled, so I rather control it-my cigarettes.

I had an uncle that died of emphysema, my great grandfather from complications of being a pipe smoker; great grandma died, likely from secondhand smoke, even though she wasn’t a smoker. My dad’s mother also died of emphysema.

My family plays a part in my decision to volunteer in tobacco awareness work.  I feel people should be informed and make their own decision not to smoke.

These days everyone knows what the dangers are.  The way I see it, people have the right to control their decisions and environments.  So, why let tobacco control your life if no one else should? I think this: simply stop or smoke-less in order to control ‘it’.

I desire a healthier life. If I got sick, I don’t have an immediate person that I feel would be there constantly.  And no one should.  If you choose to be destructive with your health,  it’s bull s*^# to have someone take care of you when you are making those bad decisions.  Why ruin someone else’s life?

I feel like I am in a better place because I feel like I have more control.Condom Dress

Having a part in designing a dress for MOTAC during the condom fashion show was a good experience.  I had a part in forming consciousness with my design, reaching my community. Really, I prefer this type of advocacy, it beats handing out paper (information) that will just end up in the trash.

I feel good about my contribution in designing a dress; it’s worthwhile and not hypocritical, since I knew I was still going to have an occasional cigarette as it’s been such a big part of my life.

Now I smoke in moderation. I smoke like a pack every 5 weeks.  People shouldn’t feel like if they aren’t adhering right away to cessation, they are a failure.

It’s better to know the behaviors behind smoking, and work on those as you make steps in smoking-less and maybe one day completely.

Tobacco-Free/Substance-Free Event for Native Youth

Liz Brown Indian Center: Youth Suicide Prevention Program

Liz Brown specializes in youth suicide prevention within the Indian Center Inc.  As an advocate, she helps the youth she serves find healthier alternatives when dealing with overwhelming amounts of stress. The challenges in her work have made her realize that there is a great need in the Native American community to have open discussions about health risk behaviors.  She explains that seeking help is a serious stigma in her community. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), social determinants of health are conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. “These circumstances,” the WHO explains, “are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at a global, national and local level.”

Dapice et al, explains that the effects of social determinants of health for Native Americans have greatly resulted from European conquest.  The conquest created great displacement and death among Native people; pre-Columbian culture and diet clashed with European floured grain and alcohol, creating allergic and predisposed physiological responses; and past and present US policy has restricted Native Americans into great poverty and oppression. Dapice el al adds that accidents, homicide, and suicide are killing Native children and youth in larger numbers than any other racial group. Later in life, heart disease, chronic liver disease/cirrhosis, and diabetes kill Native adults in larger numbers than any other groups. Physiologically and socially, the causes of death for Native Americans are mostly related to alcoholism, smoking, and other addictions such as toxic foods.

For these many reasons, Native Americans are greatly disadvantaged and exposed to added stressors.  These disadvantages have created a gap in health equality for Native American people where many health issues have remained unresolved, thus allowing the disparity gap to widen. When Liz explains the stigma she experiences from her clients, she is describing post-traumatic stress disorder that is suffered through a whole community. After so many centuries of oppression and therein depression, Native people may continue to “re-experience trauma” and numb themselves to their disparities.  The stigma and stress grows, and more premature deaths occur.

Liz wants to make a difference in her community, just like other partners who she’s collaborated with. Recently, she fantasized having a prevention kick off for youth. A rally Publication2that will serve as a festival of health information accessible to youth to prepare for a safe summer. Since  health behaviors are learned and our ancestors and relatives are our best teachers, she wanted to include their families as well. Together with Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition and Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition, Liz is planning an event full of  protective ways to respond when temptations are creeping by.

The event will be held outdoors at Hanscom Park in Omaha on Thursday June 12th from 4.30pm-8.30pm. The day is fast approaching!

The event will be [of course] tobacco free/substance free. There will be cultural celebration, elders will share their music, and families will share their food during a community potluck. Kids will have the chance to visit with different vendors to learn more about keeping safe  and have a chance to win prizes like zoo passes and theater passes to keep busy and active this summer. If you know a native youth, be a positive role model in their life and bring him/her to this youth rally called “The Good Life in My Moccasins.”

For more details and to join our Facebook page, please visit:

To learn more about smoking and tobacco please view a local short documentary made here in Nebraska:

Dapice, A.N., Inkanish, C., Martin, B., Brauchi, P. (2002). Killing us slowly: When we can’t fight and we can’t run. Related Issues: Native American Health Issues and IHS. World Heath Organization. (2012). Social determinants of health.

Partners for Health: A Grassroots Effort to Reduce Tobacco Use in Nebraska

Cindy Jeffrey

Cindy Jeffrey

In Nebraska, collaboration is key to success. And for reducing tobacco use in Nebraska, partnering of local and state organizations has brought great success for the health of Nebraskans. You have experienced the success of that partnership – if you’ve ever entered a restaurant or any business and breathe in clean, yes, that clean air free of smoke. Advocating for and maintaining policies, programs and laws like the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act are one of the successes of the effort that helps build healthy tobacco-free communities in our state.
Tobacco control has risen and attained more support from academic research in the recent past. The last 50 years of the US Surgeon’s general report has helped gather consistent long-term proof of health disparities caused by tobacco. According to the Surgeon General’s 2014 report, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the US, where 41,000 deaths are a result of secondhand smoke exposure. A threat to our society right now is that if smoking persists at the current rate among youth in the US, 5.6 million of our youth younger than 18 years of age are estimated to die from smoking related illness.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), recognizes that tobacco use costs our country billions of dollars each year in direct medical care and lost in productivity. For this reason, the CDC makes recommendations for state efforts in tobacco control. With money from tobacco industry legal settlements and tobacco excise taxes, states have funding available to exercise research proven strategies against tobacco use.
The CDC estimates that this 2014 fiscal year, states will collect $25.7 billion, but will only spend 1.9% of it on prevention and cessation programs. CDC recommended funding levels, meant to effectively reduce tobacco use in every state, is never met. This fact is unfortunate and a reality that members like Matt Prokop of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Cindy Jeffrey of Health Education Inc. are trying to change in the state of Nebraska with other partners through the Creating a Movement state effort.

Matt Prokop

Matt Prokop

Organizations like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association, Health Education Inc., and local agencies have gathered to build robust, sustainable efforts to reduce tobacco use that can closer meet recommendations from the CDC.

Their approach? The partners follow a 3 legged stool approach, as Matt Prokop put it, to combat tobacco; an approach that matches CDC and the World Health Organization strategy recommendations. The strategies include monitoring and advocating for comprehensive smoke free laws, reaching CDC recommended funding levels, and fighting for appropriate tobacco tax levels. Sadly, Nebraska falls 38th in the nation when it comes to implementing tobacco tax and has been in an uphill battle for the movement in tobacco tax increase to gain support.

As Athena mentioned in an earlier blog, the national tobacco tax average is $1.53 per pack, Nebraska’s tax is at a dim $.64 per pack.
One goal that Creating a Movement hopes to push, through policy education, is gaining support to match our neighbor’s Iowa tobacco tax of $1.36. This change, although not an ideal rate, would at least get us closer to an appropriate tax level. Increasing tobacco tax, across the country, has proven to reduce resident’s tobacco use, therefore saving lives and reducing medical and loss of productivity to the state.

Nebraska’s partners hope to reach their goals by engaging the media, putting out messages that counter the tobacco industry’s influence; mobilizing community champions and local spokespeople that can support and build personal connections to the problem; and communicating with legislators to educate on tobacco health disparities to build a case for reform.

Finally, at the heart of the effort are partnerships that represent diverse agencies working on the grassroots level. The movement serves as an open line of communication with the tobacco control community and in pooling resources to utilize best practices for saving lives in Nebraska.

If you’d like to download a report on the toll of tobacco in Nebraska, and receive regular news updates on tobacco issues around the country.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Morbidity and mortality weekly report. 63(21), 1-20. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). The health consequences of smoking-50 years of progress: A report of the surgeon general. Retrieved from