Navajo Casinos Could Go Smoke-Free, as Tribal Council Mulls Clean Air Legislation

Posted on: October 18, 2021, 09:44h. 

Last updated on: October 18, 2021, 10:36h.

Navajo Nation casinos in Arizona and New Mexico could become permanently free of indoor tobacco smoke.

Navajo casino smoking tobacco ANR
A flyer advocating for clean air casinos in the Navajo Nation. The tribe is considering legislation that would prohibit indoor tobacco smoking at the Native American group’s four casinos in New Mexico and Arizona. (Image: Navajo Nation)

The Navajo Nation owns and operates four tribal casinos. While indoor smoking is temporarily suspended at each gaming property, that is slated to change when COVID-19 conditions improve in New Mexico and Arizona, where the casinos are located.

The Navajo Nation Council commenced its fall 2021 legislative session today, October 18. One item on the agenda is debating whether the clean indoor air exemption provided to the tribe’s casinos should be extinguished.

A statute called “Nilch’ éí Bee Ííná — Air is Life Act 2021” has been introduced for consideration. The bill seeks to prohibit the indoor use of tobacco products in all tribal businesses and workplaces, including the four casinos. The tribe’s Fire Rock, Flowing Water, and Northern Edge casinos are located in New Mexico. Twin Arrows is in Arizona.

If the measure is adopted by a simple majority of the 24 delegates of the Navajo Nation Council, indoor tobacco use — aside from ceremonial applications — would be limited to private residences.

Pandemic Silver Lining

Anti-smoking advocates have pounced on the opportunity to campaign for permanent smoke-free indoor policies at casinos, both commercial and tribal, across the United States. Such anti-smoking activists say the pandemic has only strengthened the argument to ban indoor smoking in public places. Some tribal officials agree.

The Air is Life legislation is important to the livelihood of our families. Now, more than ever, we need to protect the quality of our sacred, life-giving force, our air,” declared Delegate Carl Slater, one of the bill’s supporters.

The Air is Life Act would prohibit the use of tobacco products in indoor workplaces or public buildings anywhere on Navajo Nation land. Outdoor smoking spaces would need to be designated at least 25 feet away from public buildings.

Being a sovereign entity, the Navajo Nation has the freedom to determine its own indoor smoking laws. Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR), the leading organization working to ban indoor casino smoking across the country, claims smoke-free casinos are good for business.

ANR points to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. that shows 86.3 percent of US adults do not smoke. The American Cancer Society adds that insurance premiums for workers employed inside smoke-free casinos are drastically lower. The average annual premium drops from $1,145 for a smoking casino employee to $762 for a non-smoking gaming staffer.

Failed Attempts

The Navajo Nation’s 2021 fall legislative session certainly isn’t the first time a motion to douse indoor smoking at the tribe’s casinos has been initiated. Such efforts have permeated the council since at least 2008.

The ANR says Navajo Nation passing an indoor tobacco ban would follow a national trend of tribal casinos requiring guests to go outdoors to light up. The anti-smoking advocacy says there are more than 1,000 gaming venues in the United States that are currently 100 percent smoke-free indoors, including 154 tribal casinos.