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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, July 23, 2024


Source reader Davida R. Siwisa was surprised to find there is a law in the Virgin Islands outlining the rights of non-smokers in the workplace and restaurants.
I am dismayed over the plight of non-smokers in the Virgin Islands and the dangers of the second-hand tobacco smoke to which we are exposed. I assumed that there was no law restricting smoking in the V.I. because there is an apparent disregard for the health of non-smokers. But I was referred to Title 23, Sections 892 through 895 of the V.I. Code outlining the rights of non-smokers in the workplace and restaurants.
So, as we debated what should have happened to money earned from the death and illness of people who have smoked cigarettes, we have a law from 1985, with 1994 amendments, in the "fire prevention section" of the V.I. Code that most people probably don’t know about and that clearly isn’t enforced.
I certainly didn’t know that if non-smokers outnumber smokers in the workplace and there’s no other suitable compromise, that the non-smokers determine whether smoking is allowed. I didn’t know that there are statutory enforcement issues for offenses to no-smoking regulations in government and private office workplaces. Did you? (There are other provisions and caveats; read the law.)
The Environmental Protection Agency has labeled tobacco smoke as "a serious environmental hazard." It states that "the health effects from second-hand smoke" are eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches; and lung cancer; and that it may contribute to heart disease. For children, there is the "increased risk of lower respiratory-tract infections" such as bronchitis and pneumonia, ear infections, buildup of fluid in the middle ear, increased severity and frequency of asthma episodes and decreased lung function.
Recently on a local radio talk show, a health-care advocate noted that the incidence of asthma appears to be higher in the V.I. than in many other places. It would be interesting to research what the exposure levels of second-hand smoke are to asthmatics in the territory.
Another EPA document states that "second-hand smoke may trigger asthma episodes and make asthma symptoms more severe in children who already have asthma. Moreover, second-hand smoke is a risk factor for new cases of asthma in children who have not previously exhibited asthma symptoms."
One section of our code states that "restaurants which have a customer seating capacity of less than 20 persons" need not have a non-smoking section. It seems to me that a restaurant that small is exactly the kind of place that should be designated totally non-smoking. In a place that small, the imaginary line where my non-smoking section ends and your smoking section begins is really imaginary when I’m sucking in your smoke. The 1985 law states that 30 percent of a restaurant should be non-smoking and the 1994 amendment states that 70 percent should be non-smoking. Can you think of a few establishments that may not know this?
Those of us who do not smoke but are involuntarily inhaling the smoke of others must speak up. We should let establishments know 1) the law and 2) that they’ve lost our patronage if they choose to ignore it. It is important that we applaud and support eating establishments — like Craig & Sally’s — that voluntarily say "no smoking here." That’s a responsible company, concerned about its patrons and employees. I respect everyone’s right to suck in cigarette fumes and endanger their lives. We live in a world that allows slow, methodic suicide. But I draw the line when their rights also mean they’re harming me. I implore our senators to revisit this law, consider the updated information available on second-hand smoke and act accordingly. The enforcement agencies will hopefully address this issue as well.
So, don’t feel like you’re being pushy, selfish or inconsiderate the next time you say to someone "yes, the smoke is bothering me." The truth is that it’s harming you physically. Tell the smoker in your life that the EPA has determined that second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 substances, including over 40 that are linked to cancer, and that "many of the compounds in tobacco smoke are released at higher rates in side-stream smoke than in mainstream smoke." Think about it — they are often sucking it in through a "filter" while we’re getting that side-stream smoke direct, concentrated and unfiltered.
Smoking is a life style and a death style that shouldn’t be imposed on those of us who don’t smoke. But, does it really take a law for establishments to do what’s healthy for their patrons? Our choices in the Virgin Islands are limited when it comes to the number of places one can dine out. I don’t often go to restaurants that allow smoking. I know other people who have taken the same stand.
By the way, Chapter 894 of the code lists the duties of the police to enforce the law, and Section 895 lists penalties that the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs can invoke. What are the chances people will just do the right thing and say "no smoking"?

Editor's note: Davida Siwisa writes here as a private citizen non-smoker who resides on St. Thomas.

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