Governor Togiola Signs American Samoa Smoke Free Environment Act
Press release - Gov. Togiola Tulafono signed into law yesterday a Fono bill that bans smoking in public places — such as taxis and buses — and private locations that are open to the public, such as restaurants and bars.The official signing of the measure was reps from groups targeting the prevention of smoking.
The American Samoa Smoke Free Environment Act, which goes into affect 90-days after the governor’s approval, was described by Togiola as a “landmark” bill.
“Today is a day where we join the movement of Smoke Free cities, states and countries by signing the act into law,” the Governor said.
“This is a landmark piece of legislation that provides protection of residents from the exposure of second hand smoke, which causes an estimated 46,000 deaths from heart diseases and 3,400 lung cancer deaths in non-smoking adults within the United States,” he said.
“It is also responsible for triggering asthma in preschool aged children who have not already exhibited asthma symptoms.”
“Another unique aspect of this legislation is that it is the first bill in American Samoa that… helps reduce the public prevalence and mortality of chronic and non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease,” the Governor pointed out, adding — “both of which are leading causes of death within our territory.”
This, in turn, provides a more healthy territory, leading to fewer residents needing to be put on a waiting list for the off-island medical referral program and “making this Act one of the most cost effective health interventions in American Samoa,” he said.
Togiola said the bill should not be looked at as ‘singling out smokers’.
“If you smoke, that is your choice. But when you go inside a public place to smoke, you have made the choice for those who don’t smoke. And that is what we are trying to protect,” he said.
Togiola thanked the Fono for approving this measure, adding that some two years ago, he rejected a similar bill because it was not a complete piece of legislation, until this new one which addressed his previous concerns.
He also thanked the many organizations and departments that were involved in developing this bill such as the Department of Health and the Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, LBJ Medical Center and the Cancer Network, the American Samoa Community Cancer Coalition, Department of Human and Social Services and other members of the community.
According to the measure, smoking is prohibited in all enclosed areas of public places within American Samoa, as well as in enclosed areas within places of employment.
This prohibition shall be communicated to all existing government employees by the effective date of this Act and to all its prospective employees upon their application for employment.
A Public Place, the bill says, includes several areas such as buses, taxis, museums, concert halls, theaters, auditoriums, hospital, educational facilities, public hearing facilities, libraries, retail stores, retail service establishments, legislative chambers, courthouses and immediately adjacent hallways and offices, public restrooms, restaurants, waiting areas, lobbies and reception areas.
The bill also provides an explanation of what is considered a restaurant, such as an eating establishment, as well as public and private school cafeterias, which give or offers food for sale to the public, guests or employees as well as kitchens and catering facilities.
The term restaurant shall include a bar area within a restaurant, the bill states.
A public place does not include a private residence, unless such residence is used as a licensed daycare center.
Places of Employment means an area under the control of a public employer, including but not limited to work areas, employee lounges, restrooms, conference rooms, meeting rooms, classrooms, employee cafeterias, hallways and government or commercial vehicles.
“For private employers, places of employment means those portions of the business premises which are used by or open to the public or employees of the business without specific invitation,” the bill says.
According to the bill, owners and operators of places where smoking is banned — as identified in the bill — must “make every reasonable effort to prohibit smoking in public places by posting signs” and signs shall be posted conspicuously at each building entrance and prominent locations throughout the premises.”
A person is fined $50 for violation of the ban. The owner of a public place or company who fails to comply with the law will be fined $100 for the first violation and $200 for each additional violation within one year.
In addition, the business license or any permits for the owner and/or operator could be suspended or revoked.
Moreover, each day on which a violation of this Act occurs shall be considered a separate and distinct violation.
Department of Public Safety law enforcement officers and Department of Health employees, designated by the director, shall enforce provision of this act and issue citations.
According to the bill, violation of this act is declared to be a public nuisance, which may be abated by DOH by a restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunction, or other means provided for by law, and the territory may take action to recover the costs of the nuisance abatement.
DOH is the lead agency for implementation, management, and enforcement of the Act as well as monitoring enforcement efforts and notifying relevant departments, agencies, boards and commissions of violators who persistently fail to comply with provisions of the Act.
DOH is also responsible for developing and conducting a public education program to explain and clarify the bill’s purposes and requirements to the public, and to guide owners and operators in order to help them to be in compliance.