A bill that would tax importing betel nut passed the House of Representatives last Thursday and is now awaiting Senate action.
House Bill 20-02 HD1, authored by Rep. Blas Jonathan “BJ” Attao (Ind-Saipan), seeks to increase the amount of tax imposed on the importation of areca nut, also known as betel nut.
Under the proposal, what was previously a 1 percent excise tax imposed per betel nut transaction is changed to $3 per lb of betel nut.
The money would be pooled in an areca nut (betel nut) account handled by the Department of Finance. Annually, 30 percent of the fund would be used to fund oral cancer screenings and education, 45 percent would go to oral cancer treatment, 7.5 percent would go to customs operations, and the remaining 7.5 percent would go to Finance’s Division of Quarantine.
“[It’s] nothing against [the] exporting countries, but what we’ve got to understand from the CNMI standpoint is that we continue to import [betel nut] to the CNMI and yet we can’t export to these island nations,” said Attao, adding that the CNMI is losing out on a lot with the current taxing process.
Long-term, the main purpose of the bill is to “deter the consumption of betel nut,” Attao said, since betel nut consumption is directly linked to oral cancer.
“I know a lot of people are saying that [betel nut consumption] is part of our culture [but] whose culture are we promoting?” asked Attao. “If we’re promoting culture it should be from our soil, our tree.”
HB 20-02 HD1 now heads to the Senate.