Lawmakers are mulling the idea of drafting a bill that will mandate stricter policies on betel nut chewing. This comes after several members of the 19th House of Representatives attended the Oral Cancer Health Forum at the Pacific Island’s Club Saipan yesterday morning, during which attendees called for legislation against betel nut chewing.
During a short interview with Saipan Tribune, Reps. John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan), Blas Jonathan “B.J.” Attao (Ind-Saipan), Ed Propst (Ind-Saipan), and Anthony Benavente (Ind-Saipan) agreed that drafting legislation against betel nut chewing might be a good proposition for the CNMI.
However, they aren’t looking to ban betel nut chewing altogether. Benavente and Attao said that taxing betel nut, creating violation fees, and other policies that may be similar to Public Law 16-46 or the Smoke-Free Air Act of 2008 may help cut down on chewing betel nut.
Commonwealth Cancer Association board president Lauri Ogumoro urged legislators at the forum for possible legislation that will impose an age limit to purchase betel nut.
Propst agreed with what Ogumoro said earlier at the forum.
“Anyone can go in the store and buy betel nut. You can be 5 years old and buy betel nut. There isn’t any age restrictions and we’re learning more and more about this and we can’t pretend anymore that betel nut itself is safe because there is scientific data and all research being done on this,” Propst said.
“I think the challenge is to just come out and just admit it and maybe start putting restrictions on age limit. If it is something that is in our culture that is doing so much damage to our people most especially our children, we need to start thinking more. We need to start addressing this to the public. I know it’s not going to be popular, but we need more awareness on this,” he added.
Rep. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) agreed with placing an age limit on who could buy betel nut. He also cited lime.
“Nobody really knows what’s in it. We don’t even know if it is safe or not,” he said.
Deleon Guerrero made this remark after Dr. Yvette Paulino, one of the speakers, spoke about a betel nut study in the CNMI and Guam.
Paulino said that lime itself is not a carcinogen, including the pepper leaf commonly used for betel nut chewing.
However the areca nut—commonly referred to as betel nut—is carcinogenic, she said.
In her presentation, Paulino showed that betel nut quid—betel nut mixed with lime and leaf—is carcinogenic to humans especially when mixed with tobacco.
Reps. Edmund Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), Vinnie Sablan (Ind-Saipan), and Angel Demapan (R-Saipan) were also present at the forum, which started at 8am and finished at 4pm.