Striving for a Smoke Free Navajo Nation
Policy makers on the Navajo Nation, the country's largest American Indian tribe, want to enforce tobacco free legislation to curb the rapid rise of smoking that has occurred in the Nation during the past two decades.
Crane: Smoking rates have increased rapidly on the nation's Indian reservations in the past two decades.
Nez Henderson: Navajo Nation historically had very low rates of smoking.
Crane: Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson is the Vice President of the Black Hills Center for American Indian Health, a non-profit health organization in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Nez Henderson: The rates of smoking now among the young adult population hovers around about forty percent.
Crane: The Navajo Nation, which includes parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, is a sovereign nation that sets its own policies for tobacco control.
Nez Henderson: We are currently working with the Navajo Nation in passing a comprehensive tobacco-free policy for the nation. It would prohibit the use of commercial tobacco in all public places, places of employment as well as private vehicles with children under the age of eighteen.
Crane: Dr. Nez Henderson hopes the recently passed Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act will help curb smoking in the Navajo Nation. But she adds that tribal healers also must be convinced to discontinue using tobacco in their practices.
Nez Henderson: Historically traditional healers use natural plants and herbs for their own ceremonial practices, but because of access and many other issues they're beginning to use and have used commercial tobacco for their ceremonies. So now it's just going back into these communities and educating these traditional healers that however you use commercial tobacco, it is deadly and harmful, and that's the message that we're giving to our leaders.
Crane: Dr. Nez Henderson spoke as part of the ninth NIH American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month Program. November is National Native American Heritage Month. For more information on Native American health, visit americanindianhealth.nlm.nih.gov. This is Kristine Crane, the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.