A law against the sale of betel nut to minors that came into being in the last legislature is being eyed for possible amendment, this time to cover those that are grown by private landowners.
Public Law 19-65 prohibits the sale, offer, and giving of areca nut (betel nut) to minors or persons under 18 years old. Its goal is to curb the rampant sale and easy access of betel nut to minors in stores,
Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero (R-Saipan), however, is concerned about growers and private landowners who have betel nut trees in their homes. “The law does not cover growers or private landowners.”
“There are a lot of homeowners who have trees in their houses. They have kids and with this new law now, instead of going to stores they have trees in the house. How do you control that? How does [the CNMI Alcoholic Beverage and Tobacco Control Division] enforce the law?”
Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) introduced Public Law 19-65 in the last Legislature.
Studies show that chewing betel nut causes oral cancer, which is the third leading type of cancer in the CNMI according to the CNMI Cancer Registrar. There have been 57 cases of oral cancer in the CNMI from 2007 to 2014; 39 have already died.
Guerrero said PL 19-65’s has good intentions but it needs to be revisited. He said there might be cases where minors would just pick betel nuts from the trees and preserve it in the freezer to have their own supply.
“When you see a minor out there, are you going to ask for a license or confiscate the betel nut? Where is the due process and how do you determine who gave the minor the betel nut? Where did the minor get the betel in the first place? The minor won’t tell you they got it at home.”
He said there is a need to make technical amendments to PL 19-65 to make it more effective. “Even at home, we have to remove the betel nut. Now, we can’t do that because the homeowner won’t permit you to do so. It only covers the store.”
Guerrero, who chairs the House Commerce and Tourism Committee, is also hoping public schools and other learning institutions would ban betel nut. “I hope all public schools would enforce [PL 19-65]. There’s a new law in place that youth below 18 [years old] can’t chew betel nut.”
“We have a law to regulate the selling of the product to underage kids. How effective is that, that’s a good question. Again, we’re doing this one in stores and we can’t do it to private landowners. We should also consider that a lot of homeowners also grow betel nut.”
Rep. Blas Jonathan T. Attao (Ind-Saipan) has also re-introduced HB 20-2 that aims to increase the excise tax on the importation of areca nut.