Navajo Nation's Smoke-Free Legislation is Historic Win for Health

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Jul. 30 2008

Washington, D.C. — The Navajo Nation Council has delivered a historic victory for health by approving legislation that prohibits the non-ceremonial use of tobacco products in all areas of the reservation except personal residential property. The Navajo Nation is a federally-recognized tribe encompassing portions of northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southeastern Utah. We urge Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., to sign into law this important legislation, which the Tribal Council approved at the conclusion of its weeklong summer session in Window Rock, Ariz.

The Council's 42-27 vote provides critical leadership in addressing the serious health hazards of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, which have a disproportionate impact among American Indians. American Indians have the highest prevalence of tobacco use in the United States, putting them at great risk of suffering from tobacco-related death and disease. According to the CDC's 2006 survey of adult smoking, 32.4 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives were current smokers, compared to 20.8 percent for the nation as a whole. It also serves as an example for other tribes by encouraging them to take similar action to protect their members from tobacco use and secondhand smoke.

We applaud the Southwest Navajo Tobacco Education Prevention Project, the American Cancer Society Great West Division, and bill sponsor Thomas Walker, Jr., for their leadership in championing this critical public health measure. The Navajo Nation legislation adds to the growing momentum across the country and around the world to protect the public from the serious health hazards of secondhand smoke.

Currently, 24 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have passed smoke-free legislation that cover restaurants and bars. The states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington. A growing number of countries have also passed nationwide smoke-free laws, including Bermuda, Bhutan, France, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.

The need for protection from secondhand smoke in all workplaces and public places has never been clearer. In issuing a groundbreaking report on secondhand smoke in June 2006, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated, "The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults." Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 69 carcinogens. The Surgeon General found that secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome. The Surgeon General also found that secondhand smoke is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year, there is no safe level of exposure, and only smoke-free laws provide effective protection from secondhand smoke.

 

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