Targeting Commercial Tobacco in the Navajo Nation

As a multi-funder effort to advance a commercial tobacco-free policy falls short, advocates continue to fight for the health of Navajo people

Dates of Project: January 2008 through December 2009

Field of Work: Advocacy for tobacco-control policies

Problem Synopsis: Navajos use commercial tobacco—including chewing tobacco, cigarettes, and other products—at a higher rate than the overall U.S. population. However, Native tribes have been slow to pass tobacco regulations. One impediment has been the historic importance of tobacco plants in tribal life. Another impediment is the gaming industry, which claims that tobacco regulations will undercut business.

Synopsis of the Work: With funding from RWJF's Tobacco Policy Change and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Southwest Navajo Tobacco Education Prevention Project spearheaded an ambitious effort to curb the use of commercial tobacco among the 300,000-member Navajo Nation.

Key Results: In July 2008, the Navajo Nation Council passed a law banning the use of commercial tobacco in workplaces and public spaces. But the president of the Navajo Nation—swayed by the gaming industry—unexpectedly vetoed the measure.

The industry then advanced two of its own bills exempting casinos from smoking bans. A new Navajo president who favored a more comprehensive law vetoed this legislation.

The Southwest Navajo Tobacco Education Prevention Project and its allies expect to promote a new bill covering all workplaces during the 2012 legislative session. Meanwhile, with funding from the final round of Tobacco Policy Change, the advocates are advancing policies to improve employee wellness.