Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signs ban on indoor smoking

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The Navajo Nation president on Saturday signed tribal legislation to ban smoking in many enclosed and indoor locations across the reservation, including in the tribe’s casinos.

The ban “is a monumental achievement and bold step in the right direction to promote healthy living among our Navajo people,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. “It is a fundamental right to protect our Navajo people’s right to breathe clean air.”

Tribal lawmakers approved the bill in October that prohibits the use of cigarettes, chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes and other commercial products in public buildings and workspaces, including a 25-foot (7.6-meter) buffer outdoors.

The ban will not apply to the ceremonial use of tobacco or in people’s homes unless they are being used as day care centers, adult care centers or as business offices.

Nez had until Sunday evening to act on the legislation.

Enactment of the ban followed 13 years of work by a coalition to educate the public on the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Advocates saw an opportunity during the coronavirus pandemic to renew the push while masks are required and questions remain about the long-term effects of the virus.

Comments submitted to the Navajo Nation Council on the measure overwhelmingly supported it. A few cited the potential of lost revenue for the tribal gambling enterprise that unsuccessfully sought to carve out an exemption from the ban.

Smoking is prohibited at the tribe’s four casinos — three in New Mexico and one east of Flagstaff — under COVID-19 safety measures, but it won’t be permanent unless Nez signs off on the bill.

The Tribal Council approved a ban on smoking and chewing tobacco in public places in 2008, but then-President Joe Shirley Jr. vetoed it, partially because he was concerned about gambling revenue. An override effort fell short of the votes it needed.

Shirley’s successor, Ben Shelly, also vetoed legislation that would have banned smoking in public places but not at the tribe’s casinos until their loans were paid off. He issued an order to ban smoking within executive branch offices he oversaw, but it didn’t apply broadly across the Navajo Nation that includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

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