Health officials say BSI in violation of smoke free air act
The Senate yesterday deleted in its entirety an amendment to the casino law that would have exempted Best Sunshine Live from enclosing its casino floor off from the harmful second hand smoke that emanates from its gaming floor, removing the provision after hearing clamor from health officials worried about the poor precedent and public health hazard it would cause.
Right now, health officials are worried about Best Sunshine Live’s non-enclosed smoking area, which apparently encompasses its entire gaming facility. Health officials said the non-enclosed space is a direct violation of smoking law that allows for smoking in places provided they are enclosed.
The Senate deleted “Section 17” of House Bill 19-95, HDI, HSI, which would have amended Commonwealth Code to essentially allow the non-enclosure of smoking areas in gaming establishments.
The Senate did this to the applause of health officials who had delivered testimony the day prior Wednesday and waited in the gallery on Tuesday for the Senate decision. The Senate passed the bill as H.B. 19-95, HDI, HSI, SSI, along with other amendments.
“…I walked in there and I was suddenly appalled by the amount of second hand smoke that I was exposed too, and I first became aware of that turning in from upstairs the Hard Rock Café,” said Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. Division of Public Health medical director Dr. Daniel Lamar.
“And of course as I went down into the facility, the second hand smoke got that much greater. And then as I walked throughout the DFS area shopping area I was still being exposed to second hand smoke.
“If we are going to make an error, we should err on the side of health,” Lamar told senators Wednesday. “If we make this exemption here at this time, all of the facilities of gaming in the Commonwealth are going to ask for the same exemption, where they [are] allowed to not enclose their area and expose other areas where non-gamblers, non-gaming people will be exposed, and that may be children who are at significant risk, that may be pregnant women who are at significant risk,” he said.
Lamar asked the senators where would they draw the line between health or tourism dollars.
CHCC public health planner Kaitlyn Neises said although the DFS complex underwent significant renovations in order to house BSI operations, the casino gaming floor remained open to the rest of the structure.
She sad neither the entrance from the Hard Rock Café on the south side, nor the north entrance from neighboring duty free shopping area are separated by continuous floor to ceiling walls, leaving the gaming floor and the smoke generated by its patrons unobstructed from the rest of the complex.
“Consequently, smoke in the casino floor infiltrates other areas of the DFS complex such as the restaurant and shopping mall where smoking is expressively prohibited by statute,” she said.
“While exemption from the Smoking law already exists for the gaming floor of casinos, the law requires that these gaming floors be enclosed. As a result Best Sunshine International is in direct violation of Public Law 16-46 and its casino license” agreement, which prohibits it from violating Commonwealth law.
Neises said eliminating the word enclosed from Commonwealth code would ratify BSI’s unlawful actions by changing the law so that it may continue to prioritize the desire to smoke over the public’s right to smoke free air.
“As written, Public Law 16-46 aims to allow smokers to enjoy their cigarettes only in discreet environments where their actions do not subject non-smokers to the well-document effects of second hand smoke.
“The law is coherent in the sense that the exemptions from the smoking prohibition are contingent upon the second hand smoke’s containment,” she said, noting that bars, hotel rooms, and nursing homes allow for smoking areas provided they are enclosed.
“The common theme is that a person may smoke so long as there smoke does not infiltrate into an area where you otherwise might not smoke. There is no question that you cannot smoke a cigarette in the Hard Rock Café or the hallway of DFS, yet smoke from the Best Sunshine Live’s casino floor infiltrates both these areas,” she said.
In an email forwarded to the prevention of non-communicable disease stakeholders, Diabetes Project Assistant & PHHS coordinator, Amber Lynn Mendiola, stated after the House of Representatives passed the amendment last Oct. 2 that, “We, in the community have worked so hard to establish Public Law 16-46, which is the Smoke-Free Air Act. Now, an amendment made its way past the House and is now at the Senate to amend the bill. This is to endorse Best Sunshine’s [International Ltd.] casino to allow smoking indoors.”
Neises stated, “…the House-amended [H.B.] 19-95 does, in fact, amend the Smoke-Free Air Act. This is very upsetting. This bill has passed the House, but I couldn’t get a hold of anyone at the Legislative Bureau to find out when it was/will be on the Senate session agenda. This shows that the casino management and legal counsel knows the training facility is currently out of compliance with the Smoke Free Air Act.”
Under section 2 of the Smoke-Free Air Act finds that secondhand smoke is a known human carcinogen or cancer-causing agent that is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer and coronary heart disease in nonsmoking adults. Tobacco smoke is a major contributor to indoor air pollution and is a cause of disease in healthy nonsmokers. In addition to this, the act states that smoke-filled workplaces result in higher worker absenteeism due to respiratory disease, lower productivity, higher cleaning and maintenance costs, increased health insurance rates and increased liability claims.
“Even if this bill does get through the Senate, I think there is a good argument to be made that the smoke that passes into the neighboring restaurant and shopping mall is in direct violation, but I hope we can join together to appeal to the Senate to delete this amendment from the bill,” Neisis said.
Saipan Tribune asked for a comment from Best Sunshine on their stance in allowing smoking in their establishment but their response was not received as of press time. (With reports from Daisy Demapan)