Five years ago, AARP Virgin Islands officially became a member of the Smoke Free Virgin Islands Coalition. The Coalition’s goal was to be the voice that encouraged members of the VI Legislature to bring forward a bill that would provide Virgin Islands workers with protection from second hand smoke.
The Coalition, organized by the Department of Health’s Tobacco Prevention Office, brought together community stakeholders from various churches and organizations like AARP Virgin Islands and the United Way, and disease based organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the Lung Association. The group sought to draw the public’s attention to the non-smoker’s need for protection from the effects of second and third hand smoke.
As a long time advocate of tobacco related issues, AARP VI provided testimony supporting the legislation at the Health Committee’s legislative hearing held on Wednesday, March 24th.
In the Virgin Islands, less than six percent of the resident population smokes. Yet under current law, restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, parks and other public areas provide space for smokers without sufficient consideration for the protection of workers who are exposed to the over 4,000 chemicals and 69 carcinogens known to exist in the smoke of tobacco products.
Recent research indicates that ventilation systems cannot remove these harmful substances from the air, thus the only way to provide for the health and welfare of all workers is to completely ban smoking. Under the new law smoking would be completely prohibited from restaurants and bars as well as public venues including parks, beaches, playgrounds, retail stores and public transportation waiting areas.
Individuals who choose to smoke will now be limited to their homes, their private cars (provided there is no one in the vehicle under the age of 18), private clubs with no employees or in businesses whose sole product is tobacco.
Originally drafted over 4 years ago, many in the community thought there was a strong reason why the bill was stalled. However, once presented by its legislative sponsor it was clear that a significant amount of research and public opinion polling had occurred in preparation for the bill’s introduction.
The hard work has paid off. The final Health Committee vote on the bill was unanimous signaling its move to the next legislative committee level. However, while the initial hearing drew overwhelming support from all facets of the community, everyone agreed there are still a few areas in the draft legislation that require a second look. Revisions to the bill are expected to be made to redefine the terms “private clubs” and “enclosed areas,” “inclusions of casinos, racinos, and other gaming facilities,” and to strengthen the enforcement sections of the bill.
AARP Members are asked to call their senators and urge further progress in passing Bill 28-0191 to make the VI Smoke Free, and ultimately a healthier environment for all.