The Senate passed a bill yesterday banning smoking in workplaces and public areas, although the legislative body made some changes easing the restrictions that were originally on the House bill.
All seven members present voted to pass House Bill 16-47, or “the Smoke-free Air Act of 2008.” Senators Luis Crisostimo and Paul Manglona were absent. The Senate earlier took up the bill but sent it to committee where some amendments were made.
Under the legislation, all enclosed public places and indoor workplaces must be completely smoke-free. The Senate reduced the amount of space from 25 feet to 15 feet required between the smoke-free area and doorways, windows, and ventilation intakes.
Also, 10 percent of the total square footage of a hotel may be designated as smoking areas as long as it is not enclosed.
Establishments can also seek exemptions from the law by submitting an application to the Department of Public Health. Establishments would pay $10,000 to apply for a full exemption and $2,000 for a partial area exemption.
The smoking ban does not apply to bars, private residences, and retail tobacco stores, as well as hotel rooms and private rooms in nursing homes that are designated as smoking.
The smoking ban has received broad support from the community. The Department of Public Health called the bill “a stepping stone toward improved health for our CNMI community.” The CNMI Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition said the measure is “long-awaited and much needed.”
Palauan leaders also expressed their support for the legislation. Palau’s Office of the Council of Chiefs said, “Tobacco use was never part of our Pacific tradition and so legislation to control its use will go toward reinforcing traditional practice-a healthy policy on the part of Pacific people which we embrace.”
The House must now vote on the amendments before it goes to the governor for his signature.