Tobacco law finally here

Legislators have described as historic, last week’s passage of a law that will ban smoking in many public places and place tougher restrictions on the promotion, sale and distribution of tobacco products.

cigar smokers

Cigar smokers will still be able to smoke indoors under an exemption for cigar bars. Photo: James Dimond

After receiving unanimous approval in the Legislative Assembly, the bill will now go to Governor Stuart Jack for his assent.

Most parts of the bill are expected to come into force within six months of Mr. Jack signing off on the law, although Mr. Eden said he expects enforcement officers will give the public some leeway as they get used to the new anti-smoking regime.

‘It’s not about prosecuting people, it’s about the health of the nation,’ he told the Caymanian Compass after the bill was voted in Wednesday.

Having originally proposed the law in 2005, Mr. Eden said he felt relieved to see the bill finally clear the house.

‘It’s a good piece of legislation for the public health of these islands. It is something [we have done] mainly for the protection of health and to discourage its promotion to young people.’

The revised bill will ban smoking in bars, restaurants and a host of other public places throughout the Cayman Islands when it comes into effect.

Public places in which smoking will be banned include parks; factories and workplaces; office buildings; health care facilities; common areas in apartment buildings and condos; all educational institutions and their precincts; and on all forms of commercial and public transport.

However, smoking has not been banned on beaches as Mr. Eden originally proposed in a draft of the bill in 2007. Asked why at a press briefing Thursday, Mr. Eden admitted to not being sure.

While smoking will be illegal inside bars and restaurants, the bill does include an exemption for outdoor smoking areas in such venues provided the areas are 10 feet away from the entrance and an outdoor non-smoking area is also designated.

Cigar bars are given an exemption in the law, meaning patrons will be able to smoke both cigarettes and cigars in the venues.

Acknowledging public fears that people will flock to cigar bars to take advantage of the exemption, Mr. Eden insisted the decision was not the soft option.

He pointed out that cigar bars are required to install Planning Department approved smoke extraction and ventilation systems with a year of the law coming into force.

‘Person’s are likely to be put off by the level of investment required,’ he said. ‘Furthermore, if one or two investors are willing and able to put that much into it, would it be fair to protect the current ones (cigar bar owners) from competition?’

Mr. Eden continued: ‘Our greatest concern here is with persons that work in such facilities, and are therefore exposed, day after day.

‘It may be that here we have to work with [the Department of] Employment Relations to treat this as a hazardous occupation with whatever safeguards may apply,’ he said.

Tourism Minister Charles Clifford said the law’s bipartisan support in the LA reflects the fact that smoking is rapidly becoming socially unacceptable.

‘We know of the serious health costs that are related to the issue of smoking; more often than not these costs are borne by the state and Cayman is no different in that regard,’ Mr. Clifford said.

The Tourism Minister told the house his father died of emphysema after smoking for a long time. ‘He stopped smoking 12 years before he died but, of course, he had already contracted the disease,’ he said.

‘It’s a slow killer. I watched him gradually suffocate over a 12 year period until he literally couldn’t breathe anymore.’

Mr. Clifford said he expects hotels, restaurants and bars will all benefit from the law, not suffer, as some have previously forecast.

‘Clearly the industry is going to be moving in this direction and I don’t expect any loss of business … in fact, quite the opposite is going to happen and I think many restaurants have proven that with the introduction of voluntary non-smoking policies,’ Mr. Clifford said.

Also approved during Wednesday’s session was a law that will create a witness protection regime in the Cayman Islands; changes to immigration regulations; and a supplementary budget for the previous financial year.

Legislators have been debating the laws since the 5 September opening of the LA’s second meeting for the 2008/09 year..

Wednesday’s meeting was the last in that session. A date for the next session of the LA is yet to be announced.