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Proposal called ‘step backward’

By Emmanuel Erediano SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb. 1, 2011) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the bill to amend the Smoke-Free Act of 2008 is a "step backward," according to former Rep. Tina Sablan.

Speaker Eli D. Cabrera, R-Saipan, disagrees and believes it is a step forward toward a stronger tourism industry.

In an interview following the Senate’s passage of what Senate President Paul A. Manglona described as the "compromise version" of Senate Bill 17-37, Sablan said it could have been better if the Legislature held public hearings before acting on the measure.

Sablan, who is now with the Commonwealth Cancer Association, said "it is so sad to see that the government is saving the hotel and tourism industry so desperately that it has to take a step backward from an effort to promote a healthier environment for everybody."

Introduced by Sen. Luis P. Crisostimo, Ind.-Saipan, S.B. 17-37 allows hotels to designate 30 percent of their rooms, including attached balconies, as smoking zones.

The bill states that in hotels with more than one story or wing, smoking rooms will be in the same area.

Rep. Froilan C. Tenorio, Covenant-Saipan, introduced similar legislation, House Bill 17-70, but it proposed an increase in the number of smoking rooms to 80 percent.

Crisostimo earlier said that some of the provisions in Tenorio’s bill were incorporated in S.B. 17-37, which now goes to the House.

Variety learned that the Hotel Association of Northern Mariana Islands recommended the increase in the number of designated smoking rooms and the inclusion of balconies.

Sablan said "there’s always an adverse effect" in such legislation.

The health of the hotel employees, the families of smoking guests and some residents who come to the hotels are going to be affected by the increase in smoking areas, she added.

In a separate interview, Cabrera said he fully respect the health issues being raised by Sablan and other advocates.

But smoking is the choice made by tourists, and hotels are in dire need of more tourists, he added.

"The CNMI is a tourist destination. From the very beginning it has been our main source of revenue so why not make the island a more tourist-friendly destination?" he asked.

Besides, he added, "How many locals ever check-in at the hotels and stay there long?"

Cabrera said if public hearings had to be conducted; the tourists themselves should be invited as well.

But he wonders if tourists would spend time attending such events instead of enjoying their vacation on island.

Manglona, Ind.-Rota, said they have to find a balance between the requests of hotel owners and the concerns of health advocates.

While the Legislature cares about the health of the public, it also recognizes that tourism is the CNMI’s main and only industry, he added.

He noted that the bill passed by the Senate provides that smoking rooms should be on the same floor to protect the occupants of non-smoking rooms.

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