Navajo Nation Bans Sale of Tobacco: Industry ‘Colonized a Product that Was Sacred’

OWINGS, MD - SEPTEMBER 12: Farm worker Hank cuts off tobacco leaves so they can be hung and dried at the Lewis Farm, September 12, 2014 in Owings, Maryland. Tobacco has been grown on the Lewis Farm for over 60 years and still requires to be harvested by hand. Most …
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A Navajo who studies the use of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and chewing tobacco by Native Americans commented on the Navajo Nation’s permanent ban on the sale of tobacco, a product first cultivated by Native Americans but was “colonized” by white farmers.

“I think it’s just really educating our communities about what the industry – I keep saying the industry because it’s really them that has put these products in the hands of our young people,” Patricia Nez Henderson said in an interview with taxpayer-funded National Public Radio’s (NPR) Weekend Edition Sunday. They colonized a product that was sacred, right?”

“And the tobacco industry basically put more additives in these plants to make it more addictive,” Henderson said.

Henderson said the tobacco industry has “targeted” Native Americans.

“The Air is Life Coalition as well as Team Navajo Coalition have been working at this for the last 13 years,” Hnderson said. “You know, the tobacco industry has really targeted American Indian tribes for a very, very long time.”

“They understand tribal sovereignty, and they understand all the economic opportunities that tribes are trying to do right now, including gaming,” Henderson said, who added that the ban including no smoking in Navajo casinos.

“So when we started moving forward with this legislation in 2008, the elected leaders understood the importance, but it was vetoed by the president, President Shirley, and his main response was that it would decrease the revenues of gaming by 30 perent, which, interestingly, it’s the same tactic that the industry used against the hotels and the restaurants when, you know, all these industries were going smoke-free. So we really had to address that in this movement this last year.”

Henderson said she believes the Navajo ban will have a ripple effect not on in the United States but on tribal lands in Canada.

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