American Indians from several tribes told statewide smoking-ban advocates they support their goal for healthier workplaces.
Those who attended an Arizonans Concerned About Smoking-sponsored meeting Saturday, however, were mostly health care representatives and did not offer official endorsements or pledges to follow suit if the state Legislature adopts a ban.
Rep. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, plans to introduce a bill for a statewide smoking ban this week. If adopted, her proposal would prohibit smoking in all indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants.
Any legislation passed would not cover American Indian reservations. Each tribe enacts its own laws.
But if opinions among the 35 people at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center on Saturday is an indication of how American Indians view smoking, chances might be good.
"You’ve got our support, I know, the Native American community is in support of this," Randella Bluehouse, program coordinator for the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona’s agency on aging, told Lopez.
The council represents 19 tribes and meets to discuss issues without making decisions.
Bluehouse, from the Navajo Nation, said her group teaches about tobacco use in its outreach to Indian communities.
"The majority of native people I know are nonsmokers, and the only time I see them smoke is in ceremonies," Bluehouse said.
Lopez said she knows she won’t get her bill passed without a fight.
Arizona Licensed Beverage Association president Bill Weigele sent an e-mail to legislators Jan. 6, warning them of a "slick, professional" public relations campaign aimed to pressure them to force antismoking laws for bars and restaurants.
"For many years, (the association) has worked throughout the state to protect the rights of business owners to make these decisions for themselves," Weigele wrote.
Association members also want to "make a living for themselves and their employees, to serve their patrons, and give their patrons an opportunity to exercise their freedom of choice, their lifestyle and their personal responsibility," Weigele wrote.
"Its more of a ruse. It’s a smokescreen," said Debra Yellowjohn, a Fort Yuma Indian from California and from the Native American Community Organizing Project. "It’s an Arizona issue, and it’s definitely a Native American issue."
Unlike other cultures, American Indians in the Southwest largely use tobacco for sacred religious ceremonies. Their casinos, they said, are smoke-filled because they are catering to "commercial smokers" from the outside.
"The smoke is horrible. It’s horrific on me," said Bluehouse, who often has meetings at casinos.
Some casinos, such as Casino Arizona Talking Stick on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, have made changes by adding a nonsmoking poker room.
Robert Lewis, director of the department of health and human services for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, said his tribe received a grant to stop smoking.
"There is a growing awareness as tribes have taken responsibility for their own destiny," he said. "We don’t have a smoke-free policy, but as the tribe has developed and grown over the years there has always been an unofficial smoke-free policy" in buildings.
Leland Leonard, CEO of Phoenix Indian Medical Center, made his thoughts clear.
"I just hate smoking period."