FARMINGTON — Citing the need to protect tribal employees' health, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly has issued an executive order that bans using commercial tobacco products from facilities under the executive branch.

Shelly signed the order on Aug. 14 in Window Rock, Ariz.

He based his decision on the need to protect the health of employees and the public when visiting tribal offices, according to a press release from his office.

A 2006 U.S. surgeon general's report states smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the country. It also concluded secondhand smoke exposure causes disease and premature death in children and adults who are non-smokers.

According to Shelly's three-page order, the use of commercial tobacco products is prohibited from spaces owned, rented or leased by the divisions and departments under the executive branch. Smoking is also prohibited within 25 feet of entrances, windows and ventilation systems.

The order, which was attested by Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie, authorizes division directors to evaluate the need to further restrict smoking in doorways and courtyards. They are also responsible for implementing and ensuring compliance with the order.

The ban does not restrict using natural mountain tobacco for traditional and ceremonial purposes.

It also does not affect the tribe's four casino operations.

"We are aware of the order and have confirmed that it does not apply to Navajo enterprises, including the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise," said Derrick Watchman, gaming enterprise CEO.

It also does not impact the offices housed under the legislative branch, which has no smoking restrictions in place, said Jared Touchin, spokesman for the Office of the Speaker.

A representative from the judicial branch did not return a call for comment by press time.

Pete Nez, program manager for the Southwest Navajo Tobacco Education Prevention Project, applauded the order.

"This is something that needed to be done," Nez said, adding the program will continue working with the tribe to increase awareness of commercial tobacco products and to implement similar restrictions.

The order supersedes a similar order Shelly signed in April 2011, the president's office press release stated. Nez said the difference between the two orders is the enforcement of the ban is clarified in the 2014 version.

"I'm hoping they are up to the challenge," he said.

In May, the Crownpoint Chapter approved a clean air resolution prohibiting smoking in public places within the chapter.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.