86.7 F
Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, October 5, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesAnti-Smoking Bill Needs Further Clarification, Senators Say

Anti-Smoking Bill Needs Further Clarification, Senators Say

A bill to ban smoking in public places made it through the Senate’s Health Committee Wednesday—but not before senators made it clear that they would be streamlining some of the bill’s ambiguous language before the proposal hits the floor for a final vote.
As written, the bill essentially bans smoking in any public place, except for a person’s home, tobacco stores, or private businesses where no one but the owner or employees are affected. An exemption is also made for facilities being used solely by private clubs (such as fraternities or sororities) or their guests or families.
If the language remains unchanged, that would mean a ban on smoking inside or outside bars, restaurants, government buildings, public meeting areas, retail stores, parks (including beaches) and hotels, among other things.
Some testifiers during Wednesday’s hearing said their business or agency already has smoking restrictions, keeping smoking away from any place other than designated smoking areas or boundary lines that can extend up to 50 feet away from the facility.
Since the bill has no such boundary lines, it technically outlaws smoking in any public place, including hotel balconies or parking lots connected to public facilities — which bill sponsor Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said is not really the intent behind the legislation.
Much like what’s been implemented in several other states and territories, the bill is meant to prohibit smoking inside public buildings or businesses (such as restaurants) where people could be affected by second-hand smoke, he explained. So if people want to smoke, they can simply go outside, he added.
Malone said amendments to clarify the language will be introduced when the bill makes its second appearance in the Rules and Judiciary Committee, the clearing house for all bills before they move onto the full Senate.
While several of the testifiers commented on the need for shoring up some of the definitions included in the bill — such as language outlining the meaning of "enclosed areas" — all clearly supported the bill, saying that such a ban should have been in effect years ago. And when it was brought up that local businesses might take a hit by having to turn away certain customers, many senators also said it makes good sense to cater to the larger majority of residents who don’t smoke.
"Smokers think differently than non-smokers," said Sen. Craig W. Barshinger. "They think they’re just doing something like listening to their iPod…but they’re actually polluting the air and putting the lives of people, like children, at risk."
Other senators said the issue was more about protecting the community’s health— but questioned how the regulations, which carry stiff fines for violators, would be enforced.
Many senators said that there’s no need for anyone to spend a lot of money or put an "enormous" amount of resources toward enforcement — it’s simply a case of business owners telling their customers to go outside before they light up. The bill does say that any local peace officer can enforce the law if it’s enacted and requires the posting of "no smoking signs" in public areas or businesses where smoking is prohibited.
Malone said the amendments coming in Rules will also include a provision calling for the ban to go into effect six months after the bill is signed into law, with the Health Department required to give business owners, government agencies and the general public written notice about the new restrictions three months after the bill becomes law. The amendments will also take out the exemption for private clubs, he added.
Also up for debate Wednesday was a bill setting up certain nutrition standards — such as calorie limits — for all food sold on all public school campuses, including concessions and bake sales. The bill was held in committee after testimony from Education Department officials, who said the limitations included in the bill might conflict with provisions in their already-implemented school wellness policy.
Committee chairman and bill sponsor Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve said he would be waiting on more information — including a set of draft language for the bill — from Education before he moves the proposal forward.
Senators present during Wednesday’s hearing were Barshinger, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Sprauve.
Sens. Usie R. Richards and Alvin L. Williams were absent.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.