CNMI HOTELIERS SAY ‘SIN TAX’ TARGETS TOURISTS

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 8) - The Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands (HANMI) wants the Legislature to amend the 26-day old "sin tax" due to its feared negative impact on the tourism industry, particularly its prohibition on smoking in restaurants and other hotel food establishments.

In a Jan. 6 letter to Speaker Heinz S. Hofschneider, R-Saipan, HANMI Chairman Ronald D. Sablan sought the speaker’s help in amending Public Law 13-38 that was signed by Gov. Juan N. Babauta on Dec. 13 and took effect on the same day.

Sablan said while the hotel group commends the purpose of the law, which is to curb tobacco smoking and boost government revenues, it did not take into account the effects it may have on the tourism sector.

The hotel group said a relatively high percentage of tourists smoke, so the law’s prohibition will inevitably target them.

In an interview, Rep. Benjamin B. Seman, R-Saipan and chairman of the House Committee on Health and Welfare, yesterday said his panel would discuss HANMI’s concerns with the group’s representatives.

He, however, said exempting hotels and their food establishments from the law’s prohibitions is not a good practice.

"I feel that it’s not justifiable to segregate them from restaurants not located in hotels and other public places, and more so, to exempt them from the law’s restrictions. But our office is open for them so that we could discuss their concerns together. I want to point out that this is a health law, and we want to protect the public from smoking and secondhand smoke," said Seman.

P.L. 13-38 also raised by up to 250 percent the excise taxes for imported cigarette and alcohol products.

"HANMI recommends that Section 102(b) be deleted in its entirety, or at the very least hotels, tourist-frequented restaurants or establishments with alcohol beverage control licenses be exempted from the non-smoking rule," Sablan told Hofschneider in the two-page letter.

This section of the law prohibits smoking in any restaurant with a seating capacity of 50 or more persons, except in an area specifically designated as a smoking area.

In such case, smoking is permitted only in areas that have been specifically designated by notice or sign—only if non-smoking areas of sufficient size and capacity are available to accommodate non-smokers.

Section 102(b) of the law also said that smoking and non-smoking areas in any restaurant need not be separated by walls, partitions or other physical barriers—provided, however, that non-smoking areas in any part of a restaurant are two times the floor size of the smoking area.

HANMI said the floor space requirement is "too impractical" when dealing with group tourists, considering the big percentage of tourists that smoke.

January 8, 2003 

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