Exemptions in tobacco law

Cigar bars, outdoor areas of bars and restaurants and hotel bedrooms will all be exempted from smoking prohibitions contained in a revised version of the long awaited Tobacco Bill.

Made publicly available Tuesday, the revised bill marks a softening of the stance the Government had taken in a draft of the bill that came before the Legislative Assembly in March 2007.

Health Minister Anthony Eden told the Caymanian Compass the law includes practical modification to the draft bill without defeating its purpose.

Under the proposed law, patrons will be able to continue to smoke in designated outdoor smoking areas of bars and restaurants provided those areas are at least 10 feet from the building’s entrance.

Patrons will be able to smoke both cigars and cigarettes inside cigar bars provided the premise installs a Planning Department approved ventilator within 12 months of the law taking effect.

The law’s broad definition of a cigar bar – ‘a licensed business that caters to patrons who smoke cigars on premises’ – will raise concern amongst anti-smoking activists of a cigar bar proliferation across the Cayman Islands.

However Health Minister Anthony Eden told the Caymanian Compass he does not expect that establishments across the Cayman Islands will declare themselves cigar bars to side-step indoor smoking bans.

‘There is probably just a handful – maybe five – cigar bars that are now in existence,’ he said. ‘I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t anticipate that other people would start them up. I wouldn’t want to see that.’

The Cayman Islands Cancer Society initial reaction to the bill was mixed, although they said they are still reviewing the proposed law to assess its full implications.

‘The directors of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society are pleased that the issue of tobacco legislation has been revised and appears headed towards the Legislative Assembly,’ said Christine Sanders, CICS chief operating officer. ‘We are disappointed that cigar bars appear to be exempt but are pleased that provisions are there to reduce youth access to tobacco products,’ she said.

Mr. Eden said finally making it illegal to sell tobacco products to minors has been one of the driving forces behind introducing the legislation. ‘The indications strongly show that when children start at a young age it makes it so much harder for them to break the habit,’ he commented.

Rented condominium units and halls of residence sleeping rooms that have been designated non-smoking are also exempt from the general prohibition on smoking in or within 10 feet of a public place.

The law’s broad ranging definition of a public places includes offices; healthcare facilities and their precincts; all buildings and grounds of educational facilities; factories and warehouses; parks; retail establishments including shopping centres; sports stadiums; government owned facilities rented out for events and correctional facilities.

Despite exemptions that will allow smoking to continue in some public places, the law contains strong penalties for anyone found guilty of a smoking offence.

Premises owners found not to be enforcing smoking bans face a $15,000 fine for a first offence and up to 12 months jail or $30,000 in fines for a subsequent conviction.

Individuals caught smoking illegally in a public place face a first-time fine of $2,000 and up to a $10,000 fine for a subsequent conviction.

Retailers caught selling to minors will face a first up fine of $5,000 that will increases to $15,000 for subsequent offences.

Over three years after the PPM Government flagged plans to introduce anti-smoking measures, Mr. Eden said he is relieved and happy that the law is now set to come before legislators.

‘It has been a lot longer than I would have liked, for one reason or another, but I am pleased to know it is coming and Cayman will be in the realm of the rest of the world doing the same thing,’ he said.

‘I want to thank the public … We wanted to listen to everyone and make sure no one is really penalised. It’s all about the health of the nation and making it better.’

It is not clear when legislators will be asked to vote on the bill. Mr Eden said he expects a six month grace period between the law’s approval and its implementation.

Members of the opposition United Democratic Party are expected to throw their support behind the bill, Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush having previously stated that he would take the bill further if he had his way.

Once approved, regulations will follow that will clarify the effect of the law, Mr. Eden said.

Drawn out

Former Health Minister Gilbert McLean said he would peruse anti-smoking legislation in early 2005 but there was a change of government just months later.

Within months of coming to power the People’s Progressive Movement announced plans to introduce anti-smoking legislation but the law did not make it to the Legislative Assembly until March 2007, in the form of a discussion white paper bill.

A 60-day public consultation period followed in which concern was voiced that the legislation was ambiguous, contained errors and did not include regulations that would make the law’s operation clearer.

It led Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts to say Cabinet would entertain practical modifications to the bill, so long as they didn’t compromise the aims of the legislation.

Anti-smoking activists have expressed growing frustration throughout the year with the law’s slow passage while a number of bars and restaurants across Grand Cayman have introduced their own non-smoking policies voluntarily.

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