Two health advocacy groups are concerned there will be an increase in the number of venue’s calling themselves cigar bars in the Cayman Islands under a plan to exempt them from a general ban on indoor smoking.
Under a revised version of the Tobacco Bill that was released last week, cigar bars – defined in the law as ‘a licensed business that caters to patrons who smoke cigars on premises,’ – will be exempt from the general ban on smoking inside public places.
‘The definition of a cigar bar in the bill appears somewhat vague,’ the Cayman Islands Cancer Society and the Cayman Heart Fund said in a joint statement. ‘We are concerned that we will see a sudden increase in the number of cigar bars on all three islands,’ they said.
The health groups pointed out that in some jurisdictions, to be recognised as a cigar bar, a certain percentage of an enterprise’s revenue has to be derived from the sale of cigars.
‘We fervently hope that action will be taken to avoid an increase in the number of businesses licensed as cigar bars,’ the statement said.
Health Minister Anthony Eden told the Caymanian Compass last week he does not expect that establishments across the Cayman Islands will declare themselves cigar bars in an effort to sidestep the ban.
‘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.’
While the bill requires cigar bars to install a planning department approved smoke extractor / ventilation system within a year of the law coming into effect, the health groups warned that the systems cannot totally eliminate risks posed by second-hand smoke.
‘While the systems can remove the sight and smell of tobacco smoke, they cannot remove the toxic substances in the air and all patrons and employees of these facilities must be made aware of this,’ the statement said.
The CICS and CHF statement pointed to an American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers 2006 position paper that says: ‘At present, the only means of effectively eliminating health risks associated with indoor exposure is to ban smoking activity’.
The position paper concluded: ‘No other engineering approaches, including current and advanced dilution ventilation or air cleaning technologies, have demonstrated or should be relied upon to control health risks from [environmental tobacco smoke] exposure in spaces where smoking occurs.’
The health groups are also concerned with an exemption that will allow patrons to continue to smoke in outdoor areas of bars and restaurants provided those areas are at least 10 feet from the building’s entrance. Such areas will also have to have a designated non-smoking section.
‘Research from Stanford University concluded that a non-smoker sitting a few feet downwind from a smouldering cigarette is likely to be exposed to substantial levels of contaminated air for brief periods of time,’ the CICS and CHF statement said.
‘We would hope that provision can be made for the smoking and no-smoking sections to have a buffer of a minimum of 10 feet such as that described within the Bill, prohibiting the use of tobacco products within 10 feet of the entrance to the said facility.’
A third area of concern for the health groups is a change to the revised law that seems to allow smoking on beaches while prohibiting it in other public places, including parks.
‘Both parks and beaches are places where persons, including children, gather and in this regard we believe that if parks are to be included in the schedule then beaches should likewise be included.’
Despite these concerns, the groups said they are generally happy to see the bill moving forward, adding that it appears to comprehensively address issues relating to minors and the labelling, promotion, sale and distribution of tobacco products.
‘We are pleased to see the legislation moving forward, despite the fact that it is not as comprehensive as we would have desired,’ the statement said. ‘We hope that our elected officials lead Cayman in the direction of many of the world’s nations and pass the proposed Bill into law without further delay. It is time for Cayman to have such legislation in place.’
While the revised law was made available from the Legislative Assembly last week, it is yet to be officially tabled in the house.
It is not clear whether the bill will come before legislators during the current house sitting, but it is expected to receive bipartisan support, Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush having previously stated that he would take the bill further if he had his way.