Smoked-filled bars on St. John are now officially a thing of the past.
Smokers on St. John were pushed outside of bars and restaurants last month as the Department of Health began enforcing the V.I. Smoke Free Act across the territory on February 10.
After it was passed by the 28th Legislature of the Virgin Islands and signed into law by Governor John deJongh last year, DOH was originally set to enforce the act, which was sponsored by Senator Shawn-Michael Malone, in November 2010. A three-month extension, however, was granted in order for residents and business owners to come into compliance with the new law.
Ahead of the Smoking Ban enforcement on February 10, DOH hosted town hall meetings on all three islands in January and received mostly positive feedback, according to a prepared statement by the department.
“We received positive feedback at those meetings,” DOH Commissioner Julia Sheen said in the release. “We heard from business owners that they already were complying with the law and that contrary to belief, they had not lost but gained customers as a result.”
Malone hailed the enforcement of the law a triumph for the islands.
“The Virgin Islands lagged behind the rest of the country in protecting our residents from the dangers of second hand smoke,” said the senator. “This legislation was necessary and a long time coming. This is a landmark day in our history and a true victory for restaurant and bar workers, who are typically most at risk.”
The law, Act 7171, bans smoking in enclosed areas of public places, which are defined as structures which have a roof and more than two “substantial walls that have either: (A) No opening; (B) Has an opening that does not allow air in from the outside; (C) Or has an opening that is less than 25 percent of the wall’s surface area.”
Smoking is also not allowed in enclosed areas of places of employment, in any outdoor service or waiting line, within 20 feet of any point of any service or waiting line and within 20 feet of all outdoor public transportation stations and platform shelters opened to the public.
Businesses are required to post “No Smoking” signs created by DOH which include the department’s phone number to report any disregard for the law.
The two-wall requirement has basically banned smoking from most St. John establishments. Beach Bar customers who want to light up are asked to go down to the water’s edge, while Quiet Mon and Woody’s patrons have moved across the street to puff their smokes.
The only place in Coral Bay where smoking was still allowed seemed to be Aqua Bistro’s front bar, which has no walls. Skinny Legs banned butts months ago, well ahead of the enforcement date.
As of press time only one complaint had been filed against a Love City restaurant for breaking the new law. A resident called the V.I. Police Department last month to report that Castaways was not enforcing the act, according to the VIPD blotter.
DOH is the lead agency for enforcement of the V.I. Smoke Free Act, but VIPD and other government agency employees with peace officer status are also able to assist with keeping the butts out, according to Act 7171.
For the full text of Act 7171 and more information on the new law, check out www.healthvi.org.