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The Journey to Make the Territory Smoke Free

Years ago the AARP Virgin Islands embarked on a campaign to convince VI Legislators to utilize the funding coming from the national Tobacco Settlement litigation for improvements to the community. Today the Virgin Islands have both a Cardiac Center at the Juan F. Luis Hospital and a Cancer Center at the Governor Roy L. Schneider Regional Medical Center. Both centers provide care to local patients who otherwise would have had to travel off island, leaving family and friends to endure complicated treatments for life-threatening illnesses. These centers enable Virgin Islanders to stay home and save expenses related to travel.

This hard fought victory is one that is ever present in the minds of the AARP volunteers who participated in the battle as well as those who have heard the stories of what happened on the road to winning the tobacco settlement fight. This milestone serves as the foundation for AARP’s continued legislative work related to tobacco issues.

More recently AARP VI joined the Virgin Islands Smoke Free Coalition in a multi-year campaign to remove smoking from all public areas in an effort to reduce the effects of second hand smoke. The coalition consisted of representatives from many organizations including AARP. The group met regularly over the last two years and recruited expertise from the Policy and Community Programs for the Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, Georgia.

As with all legislative campaigns, timing was essential. Although the coalition was very focused they couldn’t gain the support of the one person they needed most—a sponsor to champion the smoke free legislation. However, they didn’t let this dampen their spirits, and in 2008 Senator Shawn Michael Malone introduced legislation on the topic.

Infused with new found strength, energy and hope, the Coalition continued to strategize, lobby legislators, and seek community involvement. Earlier this year the stars aligned and the timing was right and The Smoke Free bill was scheduled for its first hearing and the legislative process began to unfold. Due to the amendments offered by Senator Malone which strengthened various sections of the bill, and enthusiastic support from Senators, the bill has been sent to the Governor for signature. Now it is time for enforcement agencies to formulate enforcement rules and regulations needed to truly make the Virgin Islands Smoke Free.

Although it seems like we’ve come to the end of our legislative journey, the truth is the Smoke Free Coalition is still seeking the public’s support. The VI’s enforcement manpower is very limited, so it will take all Virgin Islanders efforts to ensure that the Virgin Islands actually become smoke free. So, we urge if you or a loved one smokes, please think of the harm second hand smoke does to others. Please don’t smoke in a public place and adhere to the spirit as well as the intent of this new law.

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