COMMENTARY: Tribal Council should make Harrah’s smoke-free

by Jul 21, 2021OPINIONS



Big Cove Community


When Tribal Council members gather on Thursday, July 29 for a work session on Ordinance No. 471, they will assemble at the smoke-free Council House.  The members will likely walk over to the Council House after first going to their smoke-free offices at the Tribal Operations building.  The Principal Chief and Vice Chief may leave their smoke-free offices to sit in and observe proceedings.  Officials from the smoke-free Tribal Finance office may be called down to give Council members information; so might officials from the smoke-free Tribal Public Health office or the smoke-free Tribal Attorney General’s office.

At least one Tribal Council member indicated he would like to invite Harrah’s casino executives and TCGE members to this work session.  If Harrah’s casino executives attend the work session, they will leave their smoke-free suite of offices to travel to the smoke-free Council House, and TCGE members will leave their smoke-free board room to do the same.  Every single person making or influencing the decision about whether to pass Ordinance No. 471, and keep our casino gaming floors smoke-free, works in a smoke-free office.

In January 2020, Tribal Council passed a series of changes to our Tribe’s public health laws.  In Ordinance No. 2 (2020), by a unanimous vote, Tribal Council made this addition to the Cherokee Code:

“The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians finds that secondhand smoke has been proven to cause cancer, heart disease, and asthma attacks in both smokers and nonsmokers. In 2006, a report issued by the United States Surgeon General stated that the scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”  Cherokee Code Sec. 130-3501(a).

Tribal Council followed this statement by saying, “It is the intent of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to protect the health of individuals from the risks related to secondhand smoke.”  Cherokee Code Sec. 130-3501(b).  Tribal Council added, “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians also recognizes the significant public health threats posed by the non-traditional, commercial use of tobacco.”  Cherokee Code Sec. 130-3500.

This law was unanimously passed by this very same Tribal Council just last year.  Our elected tribal leaders publicly proclaimed that “secondhand smoke has been proven to cause cancer, heart disease, and asthma attacks in both smokers and non-smokers.”  Furthermore, they acknowledged smoking poses a “significant public health threat” and that there is “no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”  Then, finally, they declared it is the intent of our Tribe to protect “the health of individuals” from “risks related to secondhand smoke.”

So, here is the question: who gets the benefit of this law?  Is it only for the people who get to go to work in smoke-free workplaces?  Did Tribal Council intend to only protect elected officials and Finance, Public Health, and Attorney General’s office employees?  And casino executives and TCGE board members?

Did Tribal Council mean to exclude the hourly security officers and gaming hosts and table games dealers and bartenders and cleaning staff?  Is Tribal Council prepared to say that the health and well-being of these workers does not matter as much as the others?  Are the protections of the Tribe’s laws only for one group of people but not the other? Please remember hundreds of our tribal citizens work in these roles at our casinos.

Last week, the Shreveport, La. City Council voted to ban smoking in their city’s casinos.  In a work session, a Councilman asked a casino executive the following:

Councilman Nickelson: “Do you smoke in your office at work?”

Ron Bailey: “No, sir.”

Councilman Nickelson: “Do you let other people do that?”

Ron Bailey: “No, sir.”

Councilman Nickelson: “Don’t your workers deserve the same?”

Ron Bailey: “I think our workers deserve to make a choice. I’m not a medical professional.”

(Shreveport LA City Council Meeting, June 22, 2021,

Beware of any argument a well-paid casino executive makes where they want an hourly casino worker to have to choose between a healthy workplace and a job that feeds a family.  Only highly paid casino executives who don’t smoke in their own offices and don’t allow smoking in their own offices would fail to see the hypocrisy here.

Twice a year when per cap checks come out, we see elected officials on Facebook thanking the casino employees.  Instead of empty platitudes, how about a thank you that matters?  How about doing something for them to allow them to work in comfort without patrons blowing smoke in their faces?  Let them look forward to going to work every day in a clean, safe, and healthy environment.

We all have family members who work at our casinos, and we all know people who go to work every day on the gaming floor.  Since re-opening in May 2020, they have had a clean and smoke-free environment to go to.  Let’s keep it that way.

Last month, a Harrah’s executive told a local paper that our revenues continue to exceed forecasts each month since reopening.  We know from our per cap checks those patrons like the smoke-free environment.  We know that we’ve attracted many new customers.  The smoke-free experiment has been done.  It has succeeded.  Our casinos are packed to the brim with players.

Tribal Council, please assure us that you do not see two classes of tribal citizens – one class whose health and well-being matter, and who get to work in offices that are smoke-free, and another class whose health and well-being don’t matter quite as much.  Let’s not be that Tribe.  All of our laws, especially our public health laws, should apply equally to everyone.  Everyone deserves this protection.

Let’s be one Tribe, one EBCI.  The health and well-being of all tribal members matter.  As a bonus, smoke-free is proven to be very good for business.  Casinos across the country are realizing this, and it’s time we did too.