Controlling the availability of betel nut (areca nut) to minors is now law after Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed House Bill 19-65 into Public Law 19-66 last September.
Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) introduced the bill that aims to prohibit the sale, offer, or giving of betel nuts to persons under 18.
PL 19-66 also requires business establishments to apply for a license to sell betel nut, like the ones used for cigarettes and liquor. Cashiers or any store personnel also need to ask for identification from those who are buying betel nut to determine if they are of legal age.
Several studies had shown that betel nut chewing is one of the causes of oral cancer; health officials have been working to curb the practice which has been part of the Pacific Islander culture.
Another bill, HB 19-72, this time authored by Rep. Blas Jonathan T. Attao (Ind-Saipan) looks to increase the excise tax on imported betel nuts from 2.5 percent to 7.5 percent after an amendment made by the Senate. It was defeated before the CNMI House of Representatives adjourned last Dec. 27.
The law and Attao’s bill aims to curb betel nut chewing.
Commerce Secretary Mark O. Rabauliman has expressed support for both measures.
“I think, along with the signing of the betel nut law, PL 19-66, you need to card underage individuals—under 18 years old—removing easy access to it,” said Rabauliman. “The whole intent of the bill is to minimize availability of betel nut to minors and at the same time also promoting awareness. These are little things that our lawmakers are looking at to assist us in our endeavor.”
Enforcement of P.L. 19-66 falls on the Department of Commerce’s CNMI Alcoholic Beverage and Tobacco Control.
“Gov. [Ralph DLG] Torres just signed a proclamation about cervical cancer. We all know that, according to some statistics and studies, oral cancer is related to betel nut chewing,” Rabauliman said.
“ABTC now has an additional mandate under P.L. 19-66. It now includes betel nut and we’re promulgating the rules for that. It has to be now behind the counter. We must now prepare our personnel and do a lot of outreach programs for the community. These are just in line with the intention of the bill.”