Navajo Nation Bans Indoor Smoking

( The leader of the Navajo Nation signed legislation on November 6 banning indoor smoking in many locations, including tribal-owned casinos.

Calling the ban a “monumental achievement,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said that banning indoor smoking will promote “healthy living” among the Navajo people. The right “to breathe clean air,” Nez said, “is a fundamental right.”

Tribal lawmakers approved the bill in October prohibiting the use of cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vaping products from public buildings and workspaces. The smoking ban also extends to a 25-foot buffer zone outside the buildings as well.

The indoor smoking ban will not apply to the Navajo’s ceremonial use of tobacco. People’s homes are also exempt unless the home is used as a daycare center, adult care center, or as a business office.

The legislation follows 13 years of work by a coalition to educate the Navajo on the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Public comments submitted to the Navajo Nation Council were overwhelmingly supportive of the measure. Though some expressed concern over the potential loss of revenue for the tribal gaming enterprise that tried and failed, to gain a carve-out exemption from the ban.

Smoking had already been temporarily prohibited at the tribe’s four casinos as part of the COVID-19 safety measures. And now, with the new legislation, that ban will be permanent.

In 2008, the Tribal Council approved a ban on smoking and chewing tobacco in public places, but the former Navajo Nation President, Joe Shirley Jr., vetoed it. At the time, Shirley said he was concerned about a loss of revenue at the tribe’s casinos. The Council attempted to override the veto but fell short of the votes necessary.

A second attempt at a smoking ban, one that would have exempted the casinos until their loans were paid off, was vetoed by Shirley’s successor, Ben Shelly. Shelly instead issued an order to ban smoking within the executive branch offices he oversaw.

The new smoking ban applies to the entire 27,000 square-mile Navajo reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.