Seneca Nation officials think pending legislation before the U.S. Senate will mean the loss of 1,000 jobs, and they want to make sure everyone knows that.
Last week, the Nation unveiled an electronic billboard along the eastbound I-190 warning Western New Yorkers of ramifications of the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act.
"The PACT Act is being portrayed as a tool to fight cigarette smuggling. In reality, it will kill legitimate, treaty-sanctioned Native American commerce, causing significant economic harm," said Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder.
The billboard specifically targets Senators Charles M. Schumer and Kirsten Gilli-brand, urging them to vote 'no' and calling on area residents to join in the opposition.
"If the PACT Act becomes law, it will prevent all mail-order cigarette sales, and destroy roughly 1,000 native and non-native tobacco industry jobs here in Western New York," President Snyder said. "We applaud the goal of halting rogue tobacco smuggling, but it's wrong to wipe out legitimate jobs in the process," he said.
"Senator Gillibrand supports the legislation because it will end illegal trafficking of cigarettes to minors," said a spokesperson from her office. "She is sensitive to the Seneca Nation's concerns and has been working to address some of those issues," the spokesperson said. Working with other congressman, Senator Gillibrand raised the Seneca Nation's concerns with the bill's author and encouraged "a sit-down," her spokesperson said.
"We strongly believe that cigarettes should not be sold in the mail or anywhere else to children or minors," said Schumer Spokesman Max Young. "We greatly appreciate and have supported the role of the Seneca Nation in economic development in Western New York, and if they can show us a better, transparent and verifiable, way to prevent minors from getting their hands on cigarettes, we would welcome it," he said.
Act sponsor Herbert Kohl, D-Wis., said the act will prevent black market cigarette smuggling and illegal Internet sales he alleges have lined pockets of criminals and terrorists.
In addition to job losses, nation officials have voiced concerns their government will face a loss of revenues if the businesses go under. The nation has a stamping and enforcement mechanism it says ensures compliance with internal regulations including retailer authorization, minimum pricing and a ban on sales to minors. Licensing to retailers is part of the program, with businesses paying the nation for such licensing and enforcement, part of its import/export revenue. Nation officials estimate enforcement of the PACT Act could result in up to a 65 percent loss in import/export revenue, which it uses to fund health and education programs.
The Nation's Foreign Relations Committee has focused attention on defeating the PACT Act, report nation officials. The committee, co-led by nation Council Chairman Richard E. Nephew and Councillor J.C. Seneca, sees a clear reason why the mainstream tobacco corporations, led by Philip Morris, back the PACT Act.
"This is an overt attempt by big cigarette corporations to simply stomp out any market competition and in this case, its big tobacco targeting a single Indian tribe: the Seneca Nation," said Chairman Nephew.
"Tobacco is a legal product and the Seneca Nation regulates and monitors the manufacture and sale of tobacco products consistent with our treaty rights," said Seneca. "Western New Yorkers should be asking senators supporting the PACT Act, especially senators right here in New York State, why are they letting Philip Morris take jobs and money from the Seneca Nation and the Western New York economy? What hurts the Seneca, hurts Western New York," he said.
Sen. Gillibrand's staff reports the Senate is not scheduled to go back into session until Jan. 19, so a vote on the PACT Act is not yet scheduled.