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New policy reflects concern over health risks

By Maripet L. Poso KOROR (Palau Horizon, Oct. 5, 2010) - The ‘No chewing of betel nut and tobacco’ policy for all staff at the Ministry of Health (MOH) within its properties starts today.

In May this year, MOH Minister Stevenson Kuartei announced his proposal to make the MOH a chew-free zone. Starting June 1, all nurses at the Belau National Hospital and Public health have stopped chewing betel nut within the MOH during working hours and within the MOH vicinity.

On September 25, Kuartei issued a policy officially prohibiting all staff of the MOH -- including doctors, technicians and administrative employees -- to chew betel nut and tobacco within its properties effective today.

"Starting today, all employees of the MOH are prohibited to chew betel nut and tobacco within the premises of MOH. This includes cars and boats," Kuartei said in an interview.

Kuartei said if caught violating the policy, employees will be subjected to disciplinary actions, including suspension.

The directors, chiefs and program supervisors are tasked to enforce this policy.

By January 1 next year, the patients and the public will also be asked to refrain from chewing within the MOH properties.

With betel nut chewing being the leading cause of tooth and gum problems, and tobacco use being the common cause of oral and pharyngeal cancer in Palau, the Minister believes it’s about time they made a stand and make the MOH, its hospital, clinics and all vehicles to be a chew-free zone.

"This means that while you are here, you are not allowed to chew," said Minister Kuartei. "We’re not telling people to stop chewing betel nut. We’re telling people that when you’re in the premises of MOH, please don’t chew. If you want to chew, you can get out 10 feet away from the MOH properties."

The minister explained that everybody knows that tuberculosis is spread by aerosol, and sputum in the trash can is not hygienic. "We also understand that betel nut chewing is a very difficult habit, and it’s something that we have to be very sensitive about," the Minister said.

Admittedly, some of the nurses are having a hard time not chewing while at work, but Kuartei said they are creating a staff support program for tobacco cessation for people to go to when they need help and support.

According to MOH, betel nut and tobacco chewing have been found to cause hastened wearing out of teeth, promote gum diseases and pharyngeal cancer, among others. They have also been found as contributing factor to obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, asthma, palpitation and cardiovascular diseases.

Contagious diseases that can be transmitted to others through bodily fluids may also be transferred by spits from betel nut and tobacco chewing.

In addition, MOH said, promotion of betel nut and tobacco chewing free zones may eliminate bad breath, promote clean and unstained teeth, results in unstained walkways, pathways, pavements, waste baskets without ugly looking and foul odor of spit, and may contribute to cost savings by allowing reuse of trash bags.

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