Governor Vetoes Smoking Ban Bill
Supportive of a smoke-free environment, Gov. Togiola Tulafono nevertheless vetoed the “American Samoa Smoke Free Environment Act” citing concerns with the bill’s contradictory infraction provisions and the rights of a good portion of the local workforce to enjoy the health benefits of a smoke-free workplace.
Both the House and Senate passed each other’s version of the “American Samoa Smoke Free Environment Act” regulating “the habit and practice of smoking in certain public and private places.”
It was the House version submitted to the governor that he then vetoed on Oct. 30 and returned to the Fono with a cover letter citing his concerns.
According to the governor, under this measure, anyone who smokes in a public place is guilty of an infraction that by law is punishable by a fine only, not exceeding $200.
On the other hand, he points to another provision of the bill that provides anyone who does not appear before the court to answer a citation shall be issued an arrest warrant; while yet another provision designates the failure to appear in court as a Class B misdemeanor that under current law is punishable by imprisonment of up to six months, and/or a fine of not more than $500.
“What concerns me the most about this act is the possibility that a citizen may find himself in jail for up to six months at a time for violating a civil infraction,” the governor wrote.
He informed the Fono under the Uniform Traffic Citation arrangement currently employed by the District Court, a person who fails to appear to answer an infraction usually has a default judgment entered against him.
Unless a defendant can show good cause to the court why the court should quash its entered judgment, the individual is required to pay the fine assessed, he explained.
“I believe the same process should be used here. Instead of requiring an arrest warrant to be issued against someone who fails to personally answer an infraction, a default judgment should be entered,” said Togiola.
The governor also disagrees with provisions of the bill that allow owners of public places -- such as restaurants and bars -- to designate a smoking area on the premises, saying this is a “way out” for these establishments.
“As you are aware, some of our hardworking residents who are employed in such establishments currently have no choice but to tolerate smoke in their work environment,” the governor said.
Togiola then points to the preamble of the bill that states “second hand smoke is a known human carcinogen or cancer -- causing agent.”
“Providing a way out for some of these business will not only seem unfair, but would also preclude a good portion of our workforce from enjoying the health benefits of a smoke-free workplace,” the governor said. “I am a proponent of smoke-free living and I honestly believe that eliminating tobacco smoke from public places and places of employment is a step towards better health.”
During Fono hearings on the bill, officials of the Department of Health and LBJ hospital testified in support of the measure, to cut down on cancer related illnesses as well as to curb smoking among youngsters.
However, Health Department medical director Dr. Ivan Tuliau was concerned with provisions allowing bars and taverns to set aside smoking areas, saying if we are going to ban smoking in public places, it should be across the board.
** Although the American Samoa Smoke Free Environment Act was vetoed, the ASCCC will work with local legislators and members of the executive branch to reintroduce the bill during the first Fono session of 2009. **
By Fili Sagapolutele (Samoa News)
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