Navajo Nation Casinos Remaining Smoke-Free, as Tribal Government Signs Ban

Posted on: November 8, 2021, 07:44h. 

Last updated on: November 8, 2021, 06:14h.

Navajo Nation casinos in New Mexico and Arizona will not allow smokers to light back up on the casino floors post-pandemic.

Navajo Nation casinos Arizona New Mexico smoking indoor
The Navajo Nation, with casinos in New Mexico and Arizona, has permanently banned all indoor tobacco smoking at its gaming properties. The tribe says the decision is to protect both patrons and workers from the dangers of secondhand smoke. (Image: The Daily Courier)

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signed the “Air is Life” statute over the weekend. The tribal resolution prohibits the use of tobacco products in indoor workplaces or public places. It also bans the practice within 25 feet from all indoor commercial areas across the Navajo Nation.

The prohibition extends to the tribe’s four casinos: Fire Rock, Flowing Water, and Northern Edge in New Mexico, and Twin Arrows in Arizona.

The Air is Life Act is a monumental achievement and bold step in the right direction to promote healthy living among our Navajo people,” Nez said.

“Secondhand smoke can cause health issues among nonsmokers, such as children and elders. Public health professionals have concluded that the only way to protect nonsmokers and vulnerable populations from secondhand smoke is to require smoke-free workplaces and public places. It is a fundamental right to protect our Navajo people’s right to breathe clean air,” the president added.

The tribal act does not apply to most private residences, where homeowners can continue to smoke indoors. Tobacco use for ceremonial purposes will also remain permitted.

Protecting Workers, Tribal Members

Many casino industry executives throughout the country maintain the belief that indoor smoking is critical to operations. A silver lining of COVID-19, however, has been that casinos have had the opportunity to better test how gaming revenues are impacted when tobacco smoke is barred.

Commercial casinos across the US were forced to temporarily prohibit indoor smoking because of the coronavirus. Tribal casinos do not have to adhere to state orders, but many still temporarily suspended indoor tobacco use during the height of the pandemic.

The Navajo Nation was one such tribal community that banned indoor casino smoking last year to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. The tribe reported that its gaming numbers were not negatively affected. But even if they were, the permanent ban is warranted in order to protect the health of the tribe and its employees.

“We need to protect our people at all costs and this includes our hard-working staff employed by the casinos. We all know the health risks from commercial tobacco, including deadly cancers. Life is sacred and this resolution sends that message across Indian Country today,” said Navajo Nation Delegate Nathaniel Brown.

Tribal Game Changer

The Navajo Nation is the latest Native American sovereign territory to go smoke-free inside its casinos. It’s a growing trend, says the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR) and the group’s public policy campaign, “Breathe Easy with Smoke-Free Casinos.”

According to the ANR’s latest tally, there are currently 1,037 casinos and gaming venues in the US that are 100 percent smoke-free indoors. That number includes 154 properties owned by tribal communities.

Notable tribal casinos that do not allow indoor smoking anywhere include the three Gila River casinos in Arizona, San Manuel’s flagship Yaamava’ Resort & Casino at San Manuel in California, and the six tribal casinos owned and operated by the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin.