Tobacco and American Indians have a long history whether it’s traditional or commercial. A line some people are not aware of. For many Natives, tobacco is considered a sacred gift, this does not count a pack of cigarettes bought at the local gas station.
For commercial tobacco, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest percentage of smokers at 32.4 percent among any racial and ethnic group according to the American Lung Association.
Ben Shelly, Navajo Nation president, recognized the issue and addressed it on the Navajo Nation. For his efforts to ban commercial tobacco use in public places on the Navajo Nation he will be honored nationally by the Indian Health Service (IHS).
Shelly will receive the IHS Director’s Special Recognition Award for Public Health Leadership at a ceremony to be held June 29 in Washington, D.C.
“We are protecting the health of the Navajo people by working to ban commercial tobacco use in public areas on the Navajo Nation and protect workers from exposure to second hand smoke,” Shelly said in a press release. “This is an important issue many states and tribal nations are facing right now. The Shelly-Jim Administration is focusing on commercial tobacco free legislation to present to the Navajo Nation Council.”
Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, director of IHS, announced the honor during a listening session with the Navajo Nation Division of Health and the Navajo Area IHS in Window Rock on June 8.
This is the second honor Shelly has accepted this year for non-smoking purposes. In May he attended the National Smokefree Gaming Symposium in Las Vegas, where he accepted a 2011 Smokefree Gaming Award.
The legislation on commercial tobacco will have no restrictions on traditional ceremony use.