AICS Community Educators Overcoming the Taboo of Addiction - Commercial Tobacco Prevention and Control - Minnesota Department of Health

AICS Community Educators Overcoming the Taboo of Addiction

Youth peer educators are connecting to African immigrants from all walks of life and warning of commercial tobacco’s harms


African Imigrants Community Serivces: Helping HandsResettling in a new country is a stressful experience. For East African immigrants who have fled the decades-long civil war in Somalia—as many in Minnesota have—stress can be compounded by trauma. Increased exposure to stress and trauma may be related to this community’s higher rates of commercial tobacco use in Minnesota. It is estimated that 24 percent of East Africans in Minnesota smoke cigarettes or hookah compared to 13.8 percent of Minnesota’s overall population (see Cigarettes and the Somali Diaspora: Tobacco Use among Somali Adults in Minnesota and MATS Fact Sheet by ClearWay Minnesota). 

African Immigrant Community Services (AICS), a nonprofit organization in Minneapolis that serves refugees and immigrants, is working to lower commercial tobacco use in the community by encouraging women and youth to educate others about the harms of nicotine addiction, especially hookah use.

The organization has an active women’s group that meets several times a week—previously in-person and now online during the pandemic—to learn about and promote health in the community.

“Addiction is a taboo topic in our culture,” says Amal Abdi, Tobacco Awareness Coordinator for AICS, adding that the community has heightened concern about both opioid addiction and tobacco addiction.. The women’s group provides a place where women can come together and talk safely about health issues like tobacco use, and cope with stress and trauma in their lives.

The youth group has new energy since eight young people have joined as peer educators. These youth have organized a rap challenge to share messages discouraging commercial tobacco use, and they stay active sharing information on social media. Abdi said the young people are working on a riywaad (the Somali word for a play) to illuminate the taboo of addiction.  These peer educators are connecting to new groups of East Africans, especially young Somalis, and encouraging more people to get help with quitting or avoid using commercial tobacco in the first place.  

AICS is supported in its community-based efforts as one of eleven recipients of a Tobacco-Free Communities (TFC) grant from the Minnesota Department of Health. TFC is a program to reduce smoking, prevent youth commercial tobacco use, and address tobacco-related disparities in Minnesota. The TFC grant program is part of a growing movement to promote community-driven commercial tobacco prevention and control activities and strategies.

When asked what she had learned from the project, Abdi talked about the growing networks of people participating in the program. “I’ve learned to appreciate the views of people from all walks of life,” she noted, saying the experience was valuable for her current work and something she would apply in her future work. “We are helping people be less isolated, to bring [their addiction] out of the shadows, and to keep others from falling into unhealthy behaviors.”

More stories about community grantees

The Tobacco-Free Communities Grant Program funds local community grants and technical assistance and training grants that aim to reduce and prevent youth tobacco use and address tobacco-related disparities in Minnesota by promoting community-driven tobacco prevention and control activities and strategies.

Learn more about the Tobacco-Free Communities Grant Program and read grantee stories featuring their work throughout Minnesota communities.

Updated Wednesday, 20-Oct-2021 08:06:31 CDT