On Friday, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly defied expectations, vetoing a bill that exempted tribal gaming facilities from a reservation-wide smoking ban in public places, reported the Associated Press.
The advocate for a smoke-free nation, who in June accepted the IHS Director’s Special Recognition Award for Public Health Leadership, said the bill—which passed 14-5 by the Navajo Nation Council on July 20—falls short of protecting the health of Navajos on the 27,000-square-mile reservation.
"All partners such as Navajo Division of Health, Division of Public Safety, Judicial Branch, and the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise should work together to draft a bill that considers a ‘healthy lifestyle for the Navajo people,'" Shelly said in a press release. "The passage of this legislation does not adequately address any given employees who are subjected to a smoking workplace environment.”
Navajo gaming executives had feared a smoking ban would negatively impact their business. Still, the exemption would have been reconsidered once the tribe paid off its gaming-related debt—prospectively in about seven years.
“We’re trying to mitigate our business risks associated with a 100 percent smoking ban, provide the jobs and revenue that the Navajo Nation so badly needs and at the end of the day become entirely smoke-free for our people,” Sean McCabe, the chairman of tribe’s gaming board, told the AP in July. “Once we eliminate that debt, pay off that debt, our business risk is gone.”
The nation currently operates two casinos on the New Mexico side of the reservation, and a third is slated to break ground in the state this year. A fourth gaming house, the $120 million Twin Arrows Casino, is planned on the 405 acres recently taken into trust about 20 miles outside Flagstaff, Arizona.