Officials from the Departments of Health (DOH) and Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA) made it clear at a recent town hall meeting that as of Thursday Feb. 10 absolutely no smoking will be allowed within 20 feet of local bars, restaurants and businesses.
The Smoke Free Act 7171, proposed by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, was signed into law by Gov. John deJongh in May and then amended by the 28th Legislature in November. Warnings and fines will be issued for offenders.
In order to give residents and business owners sufficient time to become educated concerning the law, Health Commissioner Julia Sheen extended the implementation date for enforcement of the ban to February.
The intent of the law is to protect the health and safety of the public from secondhand smoke.
Sharon Williams, director of the DOH Chronic Disease Prevention program and Dynel Lang, DOH program manager of Tobacco Prevention Control, gave a presentation on the provisions of the law and reviewed the act for the dozen or so people at the meeting in the University of the Virgin Islands Great Hall.
Carl Richardson, attorney for the DOH, said smoking is prohibited where indoor or outdoor service is being provided, unless it is done 20 feet away from any service waiting line.
Peace officers of any government agency may enforce the ban on individuals who smoke. Business owners who allow smoking within the 20 feet area or do not post “No Smoking” signs issued by the DOH also face penalties.
First time offenders smoking in a business with DOH signs displayed will be issued a warning or fined up to $250. A proprietor who allows smoking or doesn’t have a sign posted may be issued a warning or fined $250 to $400 for the first violation. The second offense for the business owner is $500 to $1,000 and each offense after that can be from $2,500 to $5,000. Sheen said the fines collected will go into the DOH revolving fund.
The law allows smoking in private residences, unless they are used for child day care or hospice care. People may smoke in private clubs, private vehicles and retail tobacco outlets.
Richardson said people who report violations on the smoke free hot line at 712-6230 will have to complete statements in order to eliminate unwarranted complaints.
So far, $153,000 federal and local funds have been spent in the past five years on staff and media campaigns. The DOH plans to continue educating the public on the act and the harm from second hand smoke.
Chuck Vouros, owner of No Bones Cafe in Gallows Bay, asked what he should do if a customer refuses to comply with the law after he has asked them to stop smoking in his establishment.
“I don’t want to be fined and liable,” Vouros said “I will be abiding by the law. But with alcohol and drinking involved you never know what can happen.”
Williams advised him not to get confrontational, to refuse service to the offender and remove ashtrays and matches.
Eunice Bedminster, public relations director at DOH, said the smoking ban signs that meet specifications are available for downloading at the Health Department website.