The American Cancer Society has decided to sever ties with the Oneida Indian Nation because the tribe has purchased a cigarette manufacturing plant and will make their own cigarettes to sell.
"We had thought they were making great movement in their tobacco control efforts, but this was a big step backwards," Lisa Smith, regional vice president of the local American Cancer Society chapter, said Friday. "With all the work we do fighting the tobacco industry, we just couldn't continue to utilize their services."
The decision will affect the Basket Ball, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's signature fundraiser for Coaches vs. Cancer. The black-tie gala has been held at the Oneida Indian Nation's Turning Stone Resort and Casino for nearly a decade.
"I guess I'm a little bit surprised," said Boeheim, a cancer survivor who sits on the national board of Coaches vs. Cancer and has raised more than $4 million to fight the disease. "We've been going there for eight years, and they've been smoking there for eight years. But we do it at a part of the resort where there's no smoking. We don't use the casino. We've been able to make more money there. That's why they go there. They've been a good partner. We'll have an event there, but it'll be for some other charity."
The Cancer Society has been criticized in the past for holding the fundraiser at Turning Stone because the resort allows smoking and the Nation sells tax-free cigarettes.
"We're trying to get people to quit smoking, and one of the biggest ways is taxation," Smith said. "We're really hopeful that there is some resolution on this issue. Buying a factory is trying to circumvent the law. He (Boeheim) has a loyalty out there and has appreciated everything they've done for him. We just need to look at what options we have."
Smith said no decisions have been made on a new venue, adding that the Boeheims will be involved.
"We're definitely going to do something," Smith said. "They are committed to fighting this disease. I've worked with them for 10 years now and can categorically say they're on board with us and we'll continue working. I'm confident we'll have a Basket Ball of some shape."
Boeheim said he understood the Cancer Society's stance, though he didn't necessarily agree with it.
"I understand that there's some criticism, but we're going there to raise money," Boeheim said. "We got a note from a cancer survivor that said, 'I don't care where they get the money from.' We don't support smoking cigarettes, we never have. But just because we go there and do an event doesn't mean we support smoking cigarettes."