After a mixture of long-awaited anticipation from anti-smoking advocates and fearful opposition from those who enjoy their current free-range on smoking, Governor John deJongh Jr. signed the Virgin Islands Smoke-Free Act into law on Monday, May 10.
The law will drastically alter smoking habits throughout the territory since it bans smoking within and 20 feet from the entrances of fully- or partially-enclosed areas of public spaces and places of employment — affecting the plethora of outdoor-style bars and restaurants throughout the islands and gaining some diverse reviews from those who live here.
“As a smoker who hates that she smokes, maybe this will be one incentive to help people quit,” said a 36-year-old St. John resident for 15 years.
But a 22-year-old who just moved to St. John this past year feels the law will hurt businesses rather than help people.
“It’s not going to make people quit, it will just make people move,” she said. “I think this will also hurt businesses, especially restaurants. Whether we like it or not, it’s a lifestyle that has been developing down here for years.”
While Gov. de Jongh approved the law congruent with his administration’s promise to promote good health of all Virgin Islanders, he said senators need to revisit certain portions of the bill. In his transmittal letter to Senate President Louis Hill, the governor said the definition of “enclosed area” is too broad and needs refining in order to ensure better application.
“Given the proximity of many so-defined ‘places of employment’, questions will arise as to which place would be liable under the law for the overlapping twenty feet of smoke-free space,” Gov. de Jongh wrote in the letter.
He also expressed concerns that the signage requirements may be “overly burdensome” as it mandates proprietors to post non-smoking signs at every entrance and inside places of employment — a measure which may prove to be inefficient and unnecessarily costly.
Gov. de Jongh also said he found enacting a misdemeanor offense categorization for no more than a status offense troublesome because it “criminalizes” smoking and urged the legislature to consider making appropriate amendments that would better suit island residents.
In addition to signing the Smoke-free Act into law, the governor took action on seven other bills — signing four into law and vetoing three.
Gov. deJongh also approved Bill No. 28-0084 which enacts the Virgin Island Horse Racing Industry Assistance Act of 2010 and vetoed Bill No. 28-0204 citing that it does not yet fully address the socio-economic issues intended under the Enterprise Zone Law. Additionally, he signed the zoning measures in Bills Nos. 28-0170 and 28-0229 and vetoed Bills 28-0226 and 28-0134.