Air is Life Act of 2021 Signed into Law in Navajo Nation

News Release from Air is Life Coalition

November 8, 2021

Historic Commercial Tobacco Free Largest Tribal Initiative First

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz.—At the Veterans Park on Saturday the Niłch’í éí bee iiná-Air

is Life Act of 2021 was signed into law by the President and Vice President of the

Navajo Nation.


“This is a long time coming,” President Jonathan Nez said to the crowd. “You

didn’t have to worry about me because we have been fighting for this legislation for

over a decade. You know about Vice President and I, and Delegate Walker’s stance on

health and wellness on the Navajo Nation. We want our people to live a long and

healthy life.”


The Air is Life Act of 2021, an elaborate health policy, will create a commercial

tobacco free environment for all public places, the four Navajo casinos, pow wows,

annual festivals, as well as sports and rodeos.

The Air is Life Coalition will lend its assistance to the Navajo Nation for the

implementation that will require signage for indoor facilities in both English and



“We have been working on this law for many years and here we are today. I am

deeply grateful,” Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson said in Navajo. “Sixteen years ago, a

group of very small people came together in a small office space in Winslow,” she said

as they received their first grant from the Center for Disease Control to reduce

smoking and smokeless tobacco. The small group began by working with the

traditional healers and the Navajo communities on the Navajo Nation.

The Air is Life Act of 2021 was initially cosponsored by Council Delegate

Daniel Tso, and Speaker Seth Damon, joined later by Council Delegate Carl Slater and

Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown. Dr. Henderson acknowledges Council Delegate

Thomas Walker, Jr., who attended Saturday’s signing ceremony as a primary supporter

of their efforts.


“Our greater history rooted in traditional belief always points to the number

four,” Council Delegate Thomas Walker, Jr. said. “On the fourth time we were given

favor—a blessing for the health of the nation.”


The Navajo Nation Council successfully passed a law in 2008, eliminated

smoking in public places. It was vetoed by President Joe Shirley, Jr. as he cited

unfunded mandates, infringement on traditionalists, and negative impacts on gaming

gross revenue receipts.


The effort was repeated the following year in 2009, yet as Council Delegates

added amendments to exempt gaming from the proposed legislation, Council Delegate

Thomas Walker, Jr. invoked a measure from the floor that legislatively killed the bill.

In 2011, a proposed legislation was reintroduced, but a legislative tactic was

used on the floor as the bill was copied and language added that exempted casinos.

The mirrored bill successfully passed the Navajo Nation Council. President Ben Shelly

vetoed the law citing his support for a more complete law.

A public referendum was attempted in 2018, but the signature requirement of

20 percent of all registered voters of nearly 120,000 was overwhelming for the limited

time that was available.


“This deeply sacred moment is shared by so many individuals from Navajo

chapter houses, past and current Navajo leaders, physicians, scientists, public health

policy professionals, and above the Navajo people,” Dr. Nez Henderson said following

the event. “Our heart of gratitude is extended to the Diné Hathali Association,

Azee’Bee Nahagha of Diné Nation, and the Navajo Medicinemen Association.” Dr.

Nez Henderson also acknowledges the significant contributions from the American

NonSmokers’ Rights Foundation, the Arizonans Concerned About Smoking, the

Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the American Cancer Society, and American Lung



She further added, “The Air is Life Act—Niłch’í éí bee iiná Beehaz’áannii—is a

living document that will, as our elders would say, make a lasting impact in our lives.

From this new law, life is given. Our youth will adapt healthy lifestyles; our children

will have new opportunity.”





Dr. Patricia Nez Henderson

605-484-5602 (mobile)

Deswood Tome (


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