Navajo Nation President Signs Smoke-Free Policy

April 29, 2011

Native Americans have the highest rates of smoking and other tobacco use of any population group in the United States.

So it was an historic step this week when Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed an executive order stating, 'It is the policy of the Navajo Nation Executive Branch to establish a commercial tobacco free environment in all workplaces and public places within the Navajo Nation.'

While implementation issues must still be worked out, the order sets an important precedent for addressing the devastating impact of smoking and secondhand smoke on Native American health. It puts a priority on protecting the right to breathe clean air.

President Shelly, fulfilling a campaign pledge, said:  'Each day, hundreds if not thousands of Navajo people are involuntarily exposed to chemicals that we know are harmful.  It is the duty of the Navajo Nation President to put the health of our people first.'

The order prohibits the use of commercial tobacco products — cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco, hookah pipes, e-cigarettes and other devices—in all indoor public places and workplaces and within 25 feet of their entrances.  The policy doesn’t apply to ceremonies and other traditions that involve the use of traditional Native American tobacco.

Unfortunately, powerful casino interests are fighting the new policy, and President Shelly is planning town hall meetings to solicit input from the Navajo people.  He’s certain to hear strong support for the smoke-free policy — a 2009 poll showed that 91 percent of the Navajo people support making workplaces free from commercial tobacco use, with no exemptions for casinos.

The proposed smoke-free policy not only protects Native Americans’ health, it shows that promoting public health on Indian lands doesn’t conflict with preserving Native American heritage and traditions.

We applaud President Shelly for his leadership and TEAM Navajo for its effective advocacy.