Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly on Friday vetoed a smoking cigarettes regulation act passed last month by the tribal council, saying the measure doesn't go far enough to protect the health of Navajos.
Tribal lawmakers voted July 20 to prohibit smoking cigarettes in public places on the vast reservation with an exemption for tribal casinos. Under the bill, the Tribal Council could reconsider the casino exemption once gaming officials pay off their financing debts.
In a statement, Shelly said he overturned the council's decision because "the passage of this legislation does not adequately address any given employees who are subjected to a smoking cigarettes workplace environment."
Shelly added that he was re-pledging his commitment to protect tribal members "from cancer or diseases caused by exposure to secondhand smoke cigarettes or tobacco use."
There was no immediate reaction Friday from Navajo Nation Council members on Shelly's veto.
Some lawmakers see smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco as a personal right that shouldn't be regulated by the tribal government and have argued that a ban would inhibit gaming revenue.
The legislation acknowledges the health effects of secondhand smoke, but its sponsor pointed to thousands of jobs casinos create through construction and permanent employment and touted it as a compromise. The Navajo Nation operates two casinos in New Mexico and has broken ground on what will be its largest facility east of Flagstaff.
Gaming officials told lawmakers that business at the casinos would suffer if patrons couldn't smoke, and financing for planned casinos would be in jeopardy should a smoking cigarettes ban include casinos. They expect to repay an estimated $200 million in debt in about seven years.
Under the legislation, smoking cigarettes would have been allowed only in designated areas of the casinos like at slot machines, and in outdoor areas and golf courses. Lawmakers also amended the bill to set aside $150,000 annually from gaming revenues for anti-smoking cigarettes education.
"Although the legislation identifies 'public places,' it does not specifically highlight those places such as schools, playgrounds, parks or places where it is of the highest priorities to prohibit and encourage a healthier environment," Shelly said in his statement.
He added the tribe's 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."