The leader of the largest Native American reservation in America signed legislation on Saturday to ban indoor smoking in several places, including the tribe’s casino.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez called the ban “an important achievement and a bold step in the right direction to promote healthy living among our Navajo people”.
“It is a fundamental right to protect the right of our Navajo people to breathe clean air,” he said in a statement.
Tribal lawmakers approved the bill in October that bans the use of cigarettes, chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes and other commercial products in public buildings and workspaces, including a buffer of 7.6 meters outdoors.
The ban will not apply to the formal use of tobacco or in people’s homes unless they are being used as day care centers, adult care centers or commercial offices.
Nez had until Sunday evening to act on the law.
The ban came into force after 13 years of work by the Coalition to educate the public about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Advocates see an opportunity to renew the push during the coronavirus pandemic, while requiring masks and questions remain about the long-term effects of the virus.
Comments submitted to the Navajo Nation Council on this measure strongly supported it. Some cited the potential for lost revenue for the tribal gambling enterprise, which unsuccessfully tried to obtain an exemption from the ban.
Smoking was banned in four of the tribe’s casinos — three in New Mexico and one east of Flagstaff — as part of COVID-19 safeguards, but it wasn’t permanent until the Nez signed into law on Saturday.
The Tribal Council approved a ban on smoking and chewing tobacco in public places in 2008, but then-President Joe Shirley Jr. partially vetoed it because he was concerned about gambling revenue. An override attempt fell short of the required votes.
Shirley’s successor, Ben Shelley, also vetoed legislation that would have banned smoking in public places, but not in the tribe’s casinos until their debts were paid off. He issued an order banning smoking in executive branch offices, which he oversaw. The order did not apply to the roughly 70,000 square kilometer reservation that spans Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.